I’ll admit it: I used to download music illegally. Let’s face it, nearly everyone who owns a computer with Internet access has, at one point in their life, downloaded a song, album, or even an entire musical collection through suspicious avenues. It’s become so popular that entire music stores have restructured their inventory to contain fewer CDs and more books, DVDs, and other music-related paraphernalia in order to remain in the black at the end of each year.
I stopped downloading music a couple of years ago. People often give me an odd look when I confess that my raving love for music is coupled with great enjoyment of actually purchasing the physical copy of the album. To say that my sudden change of heart came from some sort of moral conflict, a desire to do the ‘right thing,’ would be a lie. I stopped downloading music when my hard drive was corrupted and years of files vanished because of my downloading. As I returned to buying CDs, I found myself enthralled with cover art, the booklets, the song lyrics, the liner notes, and the feeling I was finally supporting the artists I love.
Over the years, I’ve encountered plenty of resistance from self-proclaimed “record label haters” who have condemned my habit of buying physical albums. These haters all have the same argument: “I never buy albums because they don’t encourage the artist. All it does is feed the greedy record labels who starve musicians and keep all the money for themselves. I download my music, but I also go to artists’ concerts instead. That’s the way a true fan supports musicians.” Excuse me?
First of all, let me address the issue of the supposed minimal amount of money artists receive from album sales. Admittedly, I am not a budding artist, so I don’t know anything about the standard entry-level contract. But, through speaking with musicians, I’ve learned that they do actually get some money when they sell albums! It might seem obvious, but that little fact is something record label haters seem to forget. In their own world, these people imagine that every single dollar from album sales goes to the record label and none to the musicians. But in the real world, when I buy an album, I directly contribute to the livelihood of the artists I love, however little money that may be.
Secondly, record label haters like to blame the labels for stifling the development of artists through poor deals. What they forget is that without the resources of their label, most artists we know and love would never come to be. Burning CDs may seem like a very simple thing for the average consumer, but, having been involved in the making of many CDs, I can tell you that recording is an extremely long and strenuous process. A good album requires high quality recording equipment, costly mixing software, and an enormous amount of time and know-how, and that’s excluding the work that goes into simply distributing and selling the album. Unless a band has a huge amount of money available as an initial investment—which is rarely the case—artists must rely on the resources that a record label can offer them.
Finally, for those who refuse to buy albums but contribute to the artist by going to concerts, remember this: you may be giving money to the artist, but you’re also giving a whole lot of money to the promoter, the venue, the sound engineers, and to the equipment sellers. Before spitting on CD purchasers like me, give thanks to the albums and record labels, both of which allow the artist to not just spread their music but feed their family. That is what a true fan should do.