the following is a response to the blog 'a-special-plan-for-this-world.blogspot.com'
well, it's an argument that i have a difficult time resolving, even within myself. with that said, this is something i have wanted to blog about for some time, and i'm happy to have the opportunity to at least attempt to explain why what you're doing has the potential to hurt the artists, while you and others like you may perceive that your activities are 'promoting' their works.
first off, an answer to your question regarding how many people have discovered my work via the internet:
as an artist who uses the web almost exclusively to promote my activities, i would say that the majority of my listeners/fans have discovered me online. i have always made it easy to communicate with me directly, and my online presence is spread fairly wide between various domains of my own, in addition to several myspace profiles, a yahoo group, and other profiles such as last.fm (a site which i detest from the bottom of my heart), virb, and most recently - facebook (which i am preferring at this point to keep as more of a personal space for close friends and/or people i've not seen in decades.
therefore, it is not a difficult task for someone to contact me directly in order to procure any number of my releases if they so desire.
your assertions regarding this concept that people shouldn't need money to enjoy music are a symptom of our times, and i think it's an issue that people such as yourself don't really take the time to consider in depth.
the music and recording industry has been trudging along since its inception straddling a thin line between art and commerce.
on the one side, you've got your artist who works very hard to achieve the simple act of having their work put out into the world. this can require an incredible level of personal expense.
gear costs money. internet access costs money. producing releases costs money. printing merchandise such as stickers, shirts, posters, pins, all cost money.
if my computer dies or i have a hard drive failure, that costs money to fix.
for an individual such as myself, or the many other underground artists who are my peers, a single release that costs 'X' amount to produce, will very likely never generate a profit, but i do it because i am compelled to create art. without it, my life would be devoid of meaning.
the labels i have worked with and will continue to work with are all run by people like me. people who may not ever see a profitable return on the financial investments they make in order to release the music about which they are so passionate.
for many, the best they can hope for is to break even, to allow their labels to sustain themselves without the need for additional investments from their personal funds. personally speaking, i have yet to achieve this goal after twelve years of running a label. granted, i have yet to take full advantage of what is available to me, but it takes time and energy to reach that goal, and when the circumstances of ones life tend to get in the way, it's a far more difficult journey.
your statement that 'music should not be something you have to be moderately rich to enjoy' is both right and wrong. again, it is the symptom of our times, and there seems to be an almost generational, societal concept that states that music SHOULD be free. however, the chief point that is being overlooked is that, if every single person in the world started 'illegally' (i prefer the term unauthorised) downloading and trading music and refused to pay for it - ever - then the music would cease to exist. not the music that is being traded/downloaded, but anything that had the potential to come out after that.
now, you and people like you who believe that you are doing the artists some great service by posting their work, are actually taking a risk that the people who you claim to be supporting will someday no longer be able to produce this music.
for example, my most recent release, the gospels of the gash 2cd from malignant records, has been out for roughly two months. in my regular google searches for reviews of this release, i have found an ever-increasing number of torrents and blogs offering free downloads of the album, in full quality and for free.
the people who have posted these have gone so far as to state that they are promoting the music and profess to believe that what they are doing helps the artist.
however, i personally have not sold a single copy of the album - yet - meanwhile, it is available for paid download via digstation, from which the money from every purchase will go directly to me. how does making the album available for free, preventing me from seeing any revenue in return for my hard work, help me as the artist?
so, you and others like you can feel free to make as many philosophical arguments stating that music should be free, that there is more to music than money, and that art should be considered first and foremost in deference to commerce, but these arguments fail miserably when they are taken into a larger context where producing art is the way that an artist makes their living, and by 'stealing' or 'trading' that art while removing the artist from the equation ultimately dooms them to failure.
to answer your question about whether or not i personally have downloaded music, i can say that i have never torrented anything. i have gotten copies of leaked releases from friends, and on those few occasions, i have always done so with the knowledge that i'd be purchasing the album upon its release.
but, here's what has happened after i got those leaked albums:
i bought the domestic release, the japanese import, the double vinyl, the tshirt, and then went to see the live performance, where in all likelihood i purchased items at the merch table.
i have supported the artists i love because i want them to be able to keep doing what they do, so i can continue to enjoy their work.
it's true that underground music was less accessible on the same scale that it is now prior to the internet, but a perfect example of the fact that this potentially makes very little difference in this argument is metallica. they started out in a very small local underground scene and rose to this hideously grotesque, monolithic corporate monstrosity, who ultimately led the mainstream record industry's witchhunt against file sharing. they achieved this success primarily without the use of the internet, before the internet even existed in the form we know today.
how much of their rise to fame lent itself to underground tape trading? to endless touring, to self-promotion, to the trappings of the traditional music industry?
all of it.
word of mouth is a tool, the value of which is impossible to properly assess, and small obscure scenes like the 'noise' scene would not be what they are today were it not for connections having been made across long distances via the internet. i'm not sure if that's necessarily a benefit. even a band like swans, as influential and seminal as they have been to so many artists, never came close to achieving mainstream success - certainly nothing even resembling what metallica have seen - and michael gira and jarboe continue to work in relative obscurity in spite of their artistic statures.
for people such as myself, whose work is even less accessible or palatable for the greater masses, the most that can be hoped for is the ability to make my art support itself without going broke in the process. nearly everyone i know who does this stuff has a day job; i personally have been unemployed for two years now and when my benefits run out, the only income i'll be able to count on, if i continue to be unable to find a job, will be piecemeal monies that come in from cd sales.
in 2007, i had an exchange via ichat with a 19 year old fan who told me that he 'might actually buy' the ntt album that was forthcoming at that time. when i asked where he'd gotten my other releases (he'd previously said he owned all of my albums), he told me flatly and seemingly with no sense of shame, that he'd gotten them from soulseek.
i was shocked more by his unflinching sense that he'd done nothing wrong by admitting this to me. as we conversed more, i was able to explain to him something which, by conventional thinking should be a forgone conclusion - that by downloading my albums from third parties who have no relationship to me whatsoever, he was essentially pulling money out of my pockets, which potentially could lead to an end to my activities altogether. subsequent to this discussion, he purchased a few limited cdrs from me.
so, it's a difficult topic that doesn't have any easy answers for any of us. i can tell you first and foremost that i'm not some corporate entity with a legal department that can aggressively go after the hundreds of sites where unauthorised - paid and free - downloads of my albums can be found. i don't get paid royalties on a regular basis, i don't receive payments for publishing, my work is not being considered for use in car commercials or films or television series. i don't sell millions of copies of my records, the largest pressing i can hope for is 1000 copies worldwide, and the chances that i will see more than a few hundred dollars in the time before any one of these releases goes out of print are very slim.
i am just one guy, whose only sense of purpose comes from creating art, struggling to live my life and failing miserably at doing so.
what if i'd been planning to re-press dripping with the power of her flesh? what if i went through the effort and expense of doing so and didn't sell a single copy, not because nobody wanted the album, but because they'd already downloaded it from your blog? should i not hold you, or others like you, personally responsible?
i have no quarrel with you personally, i appreciate the support of those who follow my work and i rely on that support in many ways, but i think that you and others like you fail to realise that posting free downloads of entire albums by underground artists potentially does more harm than good. your argument that if people were not downloading from you they could do it elsewhere is simply not good enough to justify the practise.
i'm not going to tell you to remove the download if you feel you're doing me a service, but i do ask that you think about what i've said and consider whether you are legitimately doing a service to the artists you claim to be supporting. ask yourself if you are not instead causing them serious harm by contributing to a larger machine that will eventually ruin them. ask yourself, how exactly are you and others like you helping these artists by giving something away for free that they have put their blood and sweat into, that may or may not have been the result of a tremendous sacrifice on the part of everyone involved?