Better services, less piracy

John Brownlee on why he stopped pirating music:

It’s clear to me, in retrospect, that my piracy was mostly mere collecting, and like the most fetishistic of collectors, it was conducted with mindless voracity. A good collection is supposed to be made up of relics, items that conjure up memories, feelings and ideas for the owner so strongly that he gets pleasure in simply being in close contact with them. A tended garden. My collection was nothing like this: it was just a red weed, swallowing up and corroding anything I did care about within its indiscriminating mass.

tl;dr newer streaming/subscription services, such as Spotify and Rdio, have nailed it.


        1.  Scroll down on the signup page? It’s scummy that they “hide” it, but you can create an account without facebook.

      1. I am way happy I signed up early for Spotify. No way would I be using it if I had to have a fucking FuckBook account. I like Spotify but it is not worth selling your soul for.

        1.  Yep, I just hate “fuck book” (lol) on principle.  Yes, I have a couple of fake^H^H^H^H, uh,  anonymous accounts. I really hate how Kobo wants me to share my reading history with the world. I’m happy to use my Disqus account for multiple sites and until the lazier sites wise up, I’m going to avoid ’em.

    1. I was lucky enough to get a Spotify account before they required a Facebook account to log in. I go through significant stretches where I don’t use the service at all though, so if they ever catch up to existing users then I don’t think I’ll have a problem dropping it.

  1. Except…it’s damn near impossible for artists to earn a living wage from Spotify, whereas with physical media (and a fair split from a reputable indie label with good distribution) it was possible.

    1.  With any luck, Spotify might work like Napster did, which was to allow you to find new stuff before actually buying it. CD sales were fine when Napster was up, but dropped precipitously when it was closed.

  2. “he gets pleasure in simply being in close contact with them”
    I get little pleasure from anything I can’t hold in my hand. I know that sounds wrong, but what I mean is that downloads just don’t do it for me. I might download something, for example, to see if it was a single good track on a whole album, but generally if it’s a good album I’ll then go and buy the whole thing. Which I wouldn’t have risked without the download first. Then I enjoy it more when it’s on a shelf.

  3. You want me to pay money? I already paid you by deigning to listen to you.

    Paying money for music is a fluke of the 1920s, an ASCAP conspiracy, a relic of the days of plastic media. If you want some money from me, put on a show. (Sike, I’m not coming to your show.)

    The whole world makes up my collection, and all the sound in it belongs to me. I don’t need to “curate” some panoply of precious songs to showcase my amazing taste. I already know my taste is amazing; you should be flattered when I take your music. I could have left it there and not listened to it.

      1. Paying money for music is a fluke of the 1920s, an ASCAP conspiracy, a relic of the days of plastic media. If you want some money from me, put on a show.

        Quoted part is entirely accurate.  What makes music so valuable in the first place?

        Primarily scarcity.  The record industry put millions of hard-working musicians out of work early in the 20th century when they realized there could be more money in recorded music than sheet music.  (Strangely enough, I’ve never heard this mentioned when people complain about how piracy destroys jobs.  Record industry destroyed far more livelihoods — of real artists doing what they loved for a living — than piracy ever could.)  Everyone wants to be heard so it’s easy to get people to record cheap (before they’re famous anyway).  The price of each record represented mostly the cost of recording, reproducing, and distributing the actual records.

        But those costs have dropped to near zero due to technological innovation.  What possible economic or legal theory dictates that record companies should get special legal assistance in maintaining their prices when their costs have dropped so precipitously?  Why did CDs cost $14 when the costs for recording, reproducing, and distributing them came nowhere close to that?  Why didn’t competition on the free market drop prices to where they were should have been (just a teensy bit over cost to produce)?

        Mostly because suckers like you kept paying those costs.  This puts the price point for music out of the reach of a lot of lower income individuals.  We’ve set up a society where people are only allowed to share in and contribute to the culture if they have disposable income.  Let’s just hope the next Mozart isn’t born poor.

        Note that before the record industry’s ascendance, a lower-class Mozart could have learned from locals making a living from live music.  The record industry put those people out of jobs, remember.  Let’s please stop pretending that the recording industry is good for music in particular and society in general.

        1. But at the same time it could be pointed out that any business model of the early 1900’s wouldn’t exist on the same scale as it does today.  A professional pianist playing a concert hall could still draw a crowd today or 100 years ago, they more or less are performing.  A local indie band could still play local gigs (just like 100 years ago), but now they also have the possibility to reach a larger audience thanks to a recorded medium.

          In that respect for an artist to go out and perform not a whole lot has changed in 100 years.  They just need to get enough people to pay to listen/watch that they can make a living off of it.  What has changed is the number of people making music, the skill level (or varying skill) needed to create music, and the type and quality of music pushed upon the masses. 

          I also think your cost representation of CD’s is a little off.  Sure a cd doesn’t cost much to make, and the music isn’t that much more, but everything that goes into making the music that is going on that cd costs something as well.  A top notch recording studio isn’t cheap, and isn’t being utilized 24/7 pumping out cds.  If a group spends 3 months recording a new cd at a few hours a day or week that cost has to be incorporated into the cd.  I suppose if you don’t care about a studio quality recording then picking up a cheap “bootleg” or self produced cd at a local gig is another cheaper option.

  4. “Unfortunately Rdio is currently not available in your country”

    Spottify: “We are sorry, but currently we only support Windows and Mac.”

    Yeah fuck this better service. I’m going back to works just fine everywhere. But other than that, yeah, I don’t pirate because I don’t like having all the junk around I don’t care about. But I don’t buy music from the MAFIAA because they insist on selling me all that junk instead of what I want (play music, forget about it).

    1.  I’m assuming if you are not running Windows or Mac, there’s a good chance you are using Linux. In that case, there is a “beta” Linux client you can try. It works pretty good, actually. I use it quite a bit.

      Of course, they also don’t support it for the time being. But it’s there.

      1. The windows Spotify client also works okay on Wine on Ubuntu 12.04. Not great (it stops working sometimes), but okay.

  5. I just went to and was able to sign up without a facebook account. Currently listening with the account I just made.

    I R HAXOR!!!!

    1.  You can also sign up without Facebook in the US. I didn’t actually register a new account since I already have one, but the form is there.

      1. I poked around the US site and couldn’t find it. You can sign up for a facebook account at the same time as the spotify account, though.

        At the UK site the link specifically says “sign up with an email address” and nothing about fb.

        1.  As I mentioned above in response to another post, you have to scroll down to find the link. Yeah, the Facebook stuff is there, but it’s not required.

  6. But in the interest of making more efficient use of the finite amount of bandwidth that we all share, doesn’t it make more sense to download once and listen to the local copy multiple times, rather than stream the data each and every time you want to listen to it?

    I’m sure that wireless service providers — which are already trying to push everybody into tiered, shared data plans — love the idea of a populace that depends on their services in order to listen to music anywhere but at home or work, but I have a hard time imagining that this will be more beneficial to users or artists in the long run.

  7. Piracy is very rare for me. Not because of Spotify or Rdio or whatever the latest streaming service is that’s not available in Canada–because I don’t understand it. You’re paying nothing for music. That means, to you, it has a value of zero dollars and zero cents–and if that’s really the case, why are you wasting your time on worthless crap? I *will* pirate if the music I’m seeking is not available via the largest retailer of music on the planet–when that’s the case, I’m forced to assume that for whatever reason, somebody doesn’t want my money. But otherwise, if the music has value to me, I pay in kind.

      1. Actually, no, I don’t, other than my local 24-hour news station. If there was a single radio station with a playlist of more than a couple of hundred songs, I might take an interest. Also, I fail to see the point you’re trying to make. A song on the radio is ephemeral, there and then gone. A song I have bought is mine to play when I want.

    1.  You know when it’s a really beautiful day?  The sun is out, but it’s not too hot.  There’s a nice breeze that just makes you want to take a walk or ride a bike.  How much is a day like that worth to you?  10 bucks?  100 bucks?  Maybe more, right?

      How much do you pay for it?  Yeah, me either.

      Now I know what you’re thinking: “all these years I’ve been pirating weather!”  But don’t worry.  You can set things right by send a check to me right now.  Sure, maybe I didn’t “make” the weather, strictly speaking.  But record companies don’t make music either, and that doesn’t seem to stop you.

      1.  Haven’t read this in ages, but there’s a passage in Mervyn Peakes’s ‘Titus Alone’ where Titus comes across someone who is hawking sunsets :) “Buy the sun! Buy the sun!”

      2. So you have a vendetta against the record companies. That’s all fine and good. But musicians gotta eat, and when everyone assigns a value of zero dollars to their skullsweat, sooner or later there won’t be any music worth listening to.

        1. So you have a vendetta against the record companies…But musicians gotta eat…

          Very little record company income goes to musicians. The amount of it that goes to musicians that aren’t already wealthy borders on non-existent.

          1. Okay–so where do musicians get their money, then, if it isn’t from the sale of their songs? I’d just as soon not enrich the middleman myself, but I don’t see many people with tipjars attached to their websites.

          1. Interesting. So all those CDs I used to see in stores existed solely to get me to go to a concert, where the music doesn’t sound half as polished and you can’t even hear it anyway for all the screaming? Seems somewhat counterproductive. How many people buy CDs/mp3s vs. how many people subject themselves to concerts?

      3. You’re right, you don’t MAKE the weather and so your argument falls flat. I get that you have a vendetta against record companies, and I understand why. But until there is a system in place by which you can directly compensate musicians, writers, and artists for their skullsweat, assigning it a value of zero dollars is an insult to their art.

        1. Surely, assuming that the only reason that artists have for producing art is financial gain is even more insulting.

          I have some very musically-talented friends; should I force money into their hands each time one of them picks up a guitar and plays a tune when we’re relaxing with a couple of beers?

          It’s art production in its truest, most traditional form, which is to say entirely removed from the monetising and corrupting influences of being made into a revenue stream for a multi-national corporation.

          If you take away the money, people won’t stop producing art. Who paid cave painters? Art production is an inherent form of human expression, and being unwilling or unable to pay the likes of EMI or Time Warner will mean fewer lawyers, PR hacks and corporate CEOs get rich off the efforts of other people, but it won’t somehow stop people with a passion for music from wanting to express themselves.

          1. Fair enough. But people, even artists, gotta eat. And many people can’t just compose a symphony on the bus on the way home from their ‘real’ job. How do we reward artists for their work, if not with money? Reddit karma? Critical acclaim? That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

          2.  @facebook-781965222:disqus  Replying to myself because Discus sucks;

            That you bring up classical music is an interesting case in point; dedicating oneself to music to the extent that is necessary to produce a symphony is definitely a full time career, and it’s only right that artists who do that should get remuneration.

            Which record label was Mozart signed to? Saying “I don’t believe that the monopoly on production that record labels have enjoyed for the last fifty years or so is healthy for music as an art form or for artists themselves” is not the same as saying “I don’t believe people should get paid for their work.”

            I worked for a record label around the time of the fall of Napster, and we wouldn’t sign anything that was a commercial risk. The 80p that we gave to the artists from the £15 we charged for CDs was too much of a risk (when you factor in the other costs of music production through a record label) to back anything that didn’t represent a guaranteed Return on Capital Employed. In real terms, this meant we signed radio-friendly, commercial shit, and refused to back anyone that was in any way cutting edge or avant garde.

            No record label in their right mind would sign Mozart, and if they did, they would pay him a pittance because everyone else has to take a slice. Mozart succeeded because he had rich patrons that liked his music enough to pay him to exist, not because he got paid £0.01 every time his work of art got used in a commercial. The way that the system stands right now, there will be no more Mozarts, and a thousand more Rebecca Blacks, because one is “challenging” or “difficult” (both words we used in a negative sense) and the other had three million views on youtube before record companies even thought about her as Viable Product.

            So why is it, exactly, that record labels have the right to exist when the means of distribution that they have held a monopoly over for the last 50 years is now utterly redundant? The one thing they did well is now meaningless and yet they continue to lobby for right to exist, to the point of criminalising people for using technology to enjoy art.

            There are countless other, far more efficient ways for artists to get paid, and yet people are so brainwashed by the record companies’ 50-year monopoly that they discount the other half a million years of human existence.


      1. I love how everyone is pretending not to understand the comment at all.

        Ken’s point is fairly obvious: if music has value to you, you should pay for it.

        Everyone can feel free to disagree, or to point out that sunshine has value to you, but the reply “What the actual fuck are you talking about” is neither constructive nor witty.

        1. That’s not what he said.  He implied that people only value things that they pay for, and therefore things that are not paid for are not valued.

          Which, without equivocation, is a completely bazoo thing to say.

  8. This is well timed. Faced with an increasingly hostile music business, I just stopped buying music (remember when they started making those CDs that wouldn’t play on a computer?). It was all CDs then – there wasn’t really a (legal) download service at the time.

    I’d like to start listening again, but I have no idea what service to use – they all seem to be a bit crap. I want:
     – to download music with no DRM
     – to listen on a variety of devices (including Linux)
     – to listen on as many devices as I want (none of this ‘limited to three computers’ rubbish)
     – no unnecessary geographic limits (must be available at least in Switzerland, Germany and the UK).

    I’d prefer to pay for what I want to play, rather than a subscription service, but I’d consider a subscription if everything else works.

    Has anyone found a service that would actually work for me? I spent last weekend searching, and the results were extremely disappointing.

    (Spotify seems maybe close – I’ll investigate further, rdio isn’t available here).

    1.  I don’t know the availability of Amazon Music to you, but it fits a lot of your requirements.  Of course, that means nothing if you don’t have access to it. But, it is DRM free, with no listening limits. It’s also not a streaming service.

      Google Music is DRM free as well. They provide “cloud storage” for your music so you can store it locally or stream it. Music selection is a bit limited, though. Again, though, this depends on availability to you.

      Something to consider.

    2. I’m fond of, which was one of the early leaders on unlimited DRM-free MP3 downloads.  It’s no longer as standout as it was, but that’s partly because the competitionis better now.  It’s still well worth a look, if only to avoid contributing to Amazon’s increasing monopoly of everything.

    3.  Thanks for the pointers Nimdae, Tynam & Gilbert W.

      After trying to buy non-Kindle ebooks from Amazon I must admit I didn’t even look at them – sounds like I need to re-evaluate that. Yes, they are available here. Google Music is apparently US only.

      7digital are also available here. They have separate UK, DE and CH stores, but this is forced by the labels, so they say (so obsessed with borders). It’s real downloading (not streaming) thugh, so I can live with it. Amazons’s monopoly on everything – agreed!

      Bandcamp look like something different and fun. I may struggle to find anyone I’ve heard of – but that’s part of the point, right?

  9. Brownlee’s conclusion seems a bit to quick:

    “What’s the takeaway here? That’s a very good question. As a thirty-three year old man, I’m ashamed of the piracy of my twenties, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it gradually helped transform me from a person who didn’t care about music into a music lover, an individual with a true passion for sound, and a fervent believer in buying music.

    I hope, in the grand scheme of things, that is a comfort to the musicians and music executives who despair about the rampant piracy endemic to digital music: I can not be alone in this. I stole music just long enough for me to grow to love buying it.”

    It is quick because it obscures Brownlee’s twist of an argument that many of us have heard since the days of Napster. According to the author, pirated music is no longer a conduit for the eventual purchase of copyrighted material. Rather, free-but-legal music allows him to explore and decide what he likes a lot before he purchases music (vinyl). While I would agree there is sometimes a type of passive downloading that is inimical to the appreciation of music–downloading hundreds of albums for what purpose?–is such a dichotomy helpful?

  10. Having not spent a dime on the massive amount of music I listened to throughout my 20s, it blows my mind how easy it was for Rdio to get me paying for music again:

    – Offer a paid music service. 
    – Make it better than the free alternatives.

    For 10 years the music industry has been pretending this is not the answer to piracy. Hey presto, it is.

    1. Sounds more like getting consumers to pay for the product was the problem, not piracy. Of course, making it easy for consumers to pay you money by providing competitive services certainly sounds like a sensible business plan. Much of this goodness is made by running around and stomping on file sharing services, as unlimited access to information is almost always superior to limited access (what has been seen cannot be unseen). Slowly improve one’s own business while crushing better services with legal devices and market power… Unrestricted downloading, development, and distribution -unfortunately, this product is not for sale and those that wish it was a product tend to want to put behind a government monopoly.

  11. When I am flush and the bills are paid and we have food, I spend money on schtuff. When I am broke, I pirate. I only download exactly what I want and with few exceptions, once I tire of it, I trash it. I have never understood the Collector Mentality when it comes to visiting TPB. Who wants to store and perhaps track all that crap that you didn’t even really want in the first place? Music I typically keep, but usually only download when it has been out for a good long while. Recently, a Jackson 5 Best Of. Movies I only bother with when they are already out on Blu-Ray and DVD, which is also when my local library stocks them. The problem with that, however, is that most parents seem to let their kids play frisbee with library discs…

    1. You can add Netflix discs to that frisbee list as well.

      How a new release looks like it go shot across 80 girt sand paper when it’s only been in like 1 or 2 other hands is beyond me.

  12. The music industry has become decentralized and diverse. Artists can bring their own ideas to light without signing away all their copyrights and artistic control.

    Imagine the cultural ramifications if the same thing happens to the film industry, especially in the US.

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