I admit it: I love trolling songwriter message boards and engaging people in debates over filesharing. Not only is it interesting to hear how artists think, but it helps me refine and better articulate my own opinions. (Besides, all the computer geeks are already in agreement with me, so it’s no fun.)
Recently, one poster wrote something to the effect of “I’ll never support filesharing of any kind; I just found two of my songs on an illegal P2P network.”
My response was: only two? Dude, I’d be worried. It sounds like your songs might not be worth stealing. (I don’t think he was amused.)
It’s funny, but a few years ago, I was dead-set against Napster, and cheered when it closed its doors. It’s kind of embarrassing to link to that, but I’ll admit right now that I didn’t really get the fundamental ideas behind Napster back then. That was before I started releasing records and playing live with more regularity.
In fact, it wasn’t until I started to behave like a working musician that I understood the good in filesharing. Funny how that happens.
I’m sure there are people out there who have every song I’ve ever released on their hard drives, who really like the music, and haven’t paid me any cash for it. You could argue that these people have “stolen” from me, but have they really? What if they tell ten friends how much they like it? What if they bring those ten people to my next show? What if they buy my next CD as a result of liking my first one?
Being a small-time, independent artist, I deal in many currencies. There’s dollars, to be sure, but there’s also good word-of-mouth, loyalty, mutual respect. In what is probably the most competitive of the entertainment industries, a little goodwill is worth a lot more than a CD sale to me.
Even if I do, realistically, lose some money to filesharing, it can’t possibly compare with the amount of money I would have to spend on publicists, distributors, and print and radio promotion to reach the amount of people I could reach with P2P and the web in general. I could easily drop $2000 on a local publicity campaign. Even if I sold my record at twice the amount I do now, that’s the equivalent of 200 records. I severely doubt that a small-potatoes artist like myself is losing that kind of money to piracy.
But let’s pretend I really am concerned about piracy and decide to add digital rights management (DRM) or lockboxing technology to my CD. Now, I have no idea how much it costs to do such a thing, so let’s say it’s an additional $0.50 per CD, times a run of a thousand. So, I spend $500 dollars locking my CDs up with some sort of DRM.
It’s already been argued to death (correctly) that DRM adds no value for customers, and in fact removes value. Honest customers who are used to ripping CDs to MP3 to play in their iPods would find that they can’t do that with my record.
But even worse: DRM doesn’t help me sell records. Am I really going to put a big sticker on the CD that says “now with DRM!” and then expect to sell more records? DRM is the opposite of the “free toy inside” approach. Or maybe it’s the same thing, except the free toy comes to life, grabs a toy you already own and escapes down the heating vent with it.
Plus, I’ve effectively spent $500 to lock myself out of the promotional opportunities afforded by filesharing. I wonder if I’ll sleep better knowing that millions of potential fans won’t be discovering my tunes.
So: no value-add for me, no value-add for my primary customers: my fans and listeners. At some point I have to wonder: do I really stand to lose $500 worth of sales to piracy? And if so, can I be certain that those people who didn’t pay will never, ever compensate me in the future?
No. I can’t be certain. So I’ll take the chance that people who like my music will eventually pay me — just not always in cash.