Are Digital Downloads Good or Bad for Musicians?

The Beat on the Street

Volume CIII, No. 7/8July, 2003

Downloading music from the Internet is probably here to stay. Yet it is unclear whether this is going to be good or bad for musicians. There is legal downloading, like when musicians sell their own music through their own Web sites, or when consumers purchase music through the new Apple iTunes Music Store. There is also illegal downloading, also called file sharing, like most of what happens using software such as Kazaa, Morpheus, Grokster and the defunct Napster.

This month, Allegro asked members the following question:

Do you think downloading music is good or bad for musicians?

The problem is the ignorance of real music in the USA in general. Also the “I will get mine and screw the rest of the world” attitude that pervades the “minds” of the consumer junkies in this world. If it were IBM or GE getting ripped off then the problem would be solved in a day or two and there would be a law with teeth. But for musicians its no respect and no protection. This is simply the next phase of “Kill the Arts.”

–Art Lillard

As a club date musician having to write out horn arrangements for contemporary bands I find downloading helpful from an educational viewpoint. I download the song to transcribe and then delete the file, never burning it to CD. I realize this may be still illegal but I am neither keeping nor selling the downloads. It would be too expensive if I had to purchase every song needed for transcribing.

–Mitchell W. Endick

Internet downloading is a good idea as long as the copyright holders are getting what they want out of it.

If they want to freely distribute their material that is up to them. If they want to get paid they should be getting paid. My feeling though is that as musicians we need to spend more time educating our audience about both the power of live music, and the value of music in their lives.

As a recent college graduate, I saw a great interest in music. What I didnt always see was a great interest in live music. The teenager to college student market is one that has lots of disposable income, and if we can make them live music lovers then, we will keep them.

As musicians I dont think we should be worried about how people get their music, but we should be worried about how we are going to leverage their listening to music.

–Matt Temkin

I think downloading is OK as long as the artists are compensated. If it grew to larger proportions then there would be much more available to the consumer. Also the pickings are pretty slim out there especially for music thats not recently recorded. For example, if it were possible to license old Blue Note recordings, then a huge body of jazz could stream all over the world. Something like this would be great for bringing older recordings and artists to the attention of the general public.

–Robert Bander

I think downloads are good for musicians as long as they see the same kind of royalty payments they get when their song is played on the radio, bought in the store, etc. The Internet has given a musician the wonderful opportunity to market their music to more people at a faster pace. However, the “file sharing” that allows a listener to own a song without paying for it undermines the royalties a musician should receive and threatens his or her ability to make a living.

–Tom Kitt

I think that downloading copyrighted material without paying is bad for musicians. Apple has recently started a reasonable system (one song for 99 cents) which should be a model for others. The public seems to think that their music should be free, and have various opinions, right and wrong, about the recording industry. What doesnt get emphasized enough is that making music is what musicians do for a living, and we need to get paid for what we do.

–David Pearl

I would very respectfully suggest that the question is too simplistic. Downloading is an action that can be both good and bad for musicians. Without going into a long discourse on how previous technologies like sound recording have affected musicians (especially live music) for both ill and good, Id say that the problem isnt the downloading but the lack of royalties just as was the case on radio and TV before that problem was worked out. Theres no doubt that there will always be hacking, but you can be sure that people are working today to see whether a future generation of computers cant automatically register downloads. Even if that doesnt happen, some kind of revenue from Web sites from which users download may be possible to work out.

–Michael Laderman

Downloading is good for the artist trying to reach a wide audience. At the “entry level” there are many non-musical hurdles to overcome. Being able to put your music on the Internet sort of levels the playing field.

–David Flug

I am a performer and composer so I certainly like to be paid for what I create. But I have a tough question to pose to you all.

Before we categorically state that free downloads are no good, we have to ask ourselves the tough question. That question is: do you do it yourself? Do you download music? Ill be honest and say, yes, in fact I do.

If I get a call from a leader or a client two days before a job asking for a certain request that I dont already know, Ill be on the Internet in the next moment having downloaded the lyrics and sometimes the full song itself if Im not familiar with the melody or chord changes.

Its a very valuable tool that replaces the prior method of calling neighbors and friends to see if they have a recording of the tune in question or heading into town for a sheet music store that may or may not have it. It has made my life easier to be able to do all this in a few minutes at my desk.

I would be happy to pay the 99 cents per tune from the Apple site, but some old and obscure tunes may not be available there.

My personal vote is that downloading is good and that paying for it is good and when there is no channel through which to pay then free downloading is also good.

–Larry Siegel