Music Access Moral Continuum (Please rank yours!)
(How) Should we judge people who access music from different sources than we do?
How long concerts, a major source of income for less famous artists, will be too dangerous remains to be seen, but if the financial incentive for musicians to make music is as strong as economists think, we could be in for a long and worsening dry spell. A hungry musical genius might not create the next masterpiece if the link to putting food on the table is severed. No better time to consider the payout-tied morality of different ways to access music. I hope you’ll share your opinions using the following framework or your own.
“Music” refers to an “indie” artist w/ all songs under a million views on YouTube (arbitrary cut-off point). I’m not talking about the “winners” in the “winner-take-all market” that is the music industry (and so many others).
Many understandably employ a moral dichotomy of “paying artists” (good) Vs. “not paying artists” (bad). Or possibly a trichotomy w/ eMusic even worse than average pirates b/c subscribers are paying the company to steal from artists and record labels. There’s utility in this simplicity, but like most binary views it leaves out gray areas and the more complicated, inclusive reality of music access as a whole. I’ll leave out the likelihood, in my view, that eMu is still paying some artists/labels or they’d all abandon ship and/or file a class action lawsuit b/c I’ve harped on it a lot elsewhere.
Here’s a series of other, systematic ways of contextualizing the morality of remaining subscribed to eMusic in these difficult, uncertain times. I obviously prefer the more complex one.
DICHOTOMOUS: Paying artists (Bandcamp, streaming services, etc.) Vs. Not paying artists (Pirate sites, file sharers, much of eMusic, etc.)
“TRICHOTOMOUS”: Paying artists Vs. Not paying artists Vs. Charging a subscription fee to steal from artists
EXCESSIVELY COMPLICATED IN PURSUIT OF NUANCED OPINIONS:
To avoid going wildly out of control, I’ll limit myself to the 26 letters of the alphabet in my opinionated moral ranking, w/ A being “most moral/best” and Z being “least moral/worst.” Rather than drawing a line between moral and immoral, I’ll punt and call letters K-Q “morally ambiguous” even to my all-judging self. I hope others will rearrange the alphabet (selectively…I’m not asking for hours of anyone’s time) with their own rankings. i.e. I guess/approximate opponents of eMusic as C, B, M, W (b/c it hurts eMu), T, P, V, X, Z, J (all helping eMu at the bottom of the scale) but solicit any actual opponent's input. Anyone else who’d like to weigh in, especially anyone who’s a musician or themselves in the industry, please do! Judge now lest ye not be judged thyself.
I’ve probably missed several obvious options and don’t know how to add more letters to the alphabet. A1, Z1, etc.? Maybe use my letters as reference points and insert what I’ve missed between them?
Note that D, J, L, & W directly involve eMusic. I gather most who do so disparage any financial support or interaction w/ eMu at all uniformly for simplicity’s sake, but given several ways to get music from the site, they’re worth parsing individually.
A. Get access for “free” b/c your job (or volunteer position) is to promote the artist (Clearly it’s the music industry’s loss if anyone commenting here is not actively working in it.)
B. Attending an artist’s concerts religiously, buying physical media from their merch table, direct GoFundme campaigns (As u/Soulcoal and others duly point out, this is THE major source of income for less popular artists who’ll never be able to support themselves any other way)
C. Use of Bandcamp to maximally subscribe to one’s favorite artist’s output (including full-priced purchases of full discographies).
D. Use of eMu tokens to purchase MP3s from eMusic (Blockchain. I still haven’t heard of any accounts of anyone actually doing this, but it should at least address accusations of non-payment of artists b/c it’s transparent)
E. Buy a new vinyl record or new CD at one of the dwindling brick & mortar stores that still sell them.
F. Listen to an independent radio station (i.e. community/college-based)
G. Listen to an old-fashioned commercial radio station (I’d say it’s morally ambiguous to listen to Top40 radio, though, but that my inner curmudgeon typing. I’m not even sure indie artists, new jazz, etc. even get played on any commercial radio stations.)
H. Borrow or otherwise listen to someone else’s copy (i.e. friend or family member’s) of an album they bought new, then buy more of it oneself. Burning a copy of it to CD-R rather than buying it would be worse, but does anyone still do that?
I. Buy a used CD or used record online or at a used music store (Recent years show how dependent this means is upon people buying albums new in the first place. I welcome someone else to speculate how much buying a used CD helps the artist.)
J. Annual or monthly eMusic subscription (in hopes that it sustains eMu and will one day result in it being a viable business, doing its part to compensate artists, assuming it is still paying some artists/labels or they’d ALL leave the site)
K. Innocently purchase a promotional copy of an album (i.e. as often happens in used CD stores that purchased stock from a radio station…only the disc itself or the interior of the liner notes, invisible at time of purchase, may be stamped with “for promotional use only”)
L. Purchase of discounted eMusic booster packs (a concession to Soulcoal’s distaste for them)
M. Paid subscription to the highest compensation-per-stream, non-gigantic service (currently Napster, or correct me if I’m wrong)
N. Paid subscription to a middling compensation-per-stream service (i.e. Tidal, Spotify, etc.). As I rant in a blog post, even if compensation improved, streaming services contribute to single-fication of music consumption and the death of the album, which I see as a moral injury. http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/Streaming%20Mad.html
O. Paid subscription to one of the huge corporations’ streaming services (Giving more money to Amazon, Google, and Apple, even if they pay more per stream than some, is morally ambiguous at best given things like their carbon footprints, enabling of crass consumerism, using market share to squeeze artists/labels, crowd out small businesses, and the possibility that unless anti-trust enforcement increases a lot they’ll someday own everything that people can purchase).
P. 7% of people (the same as the % who buy physical media or download from iTunes or elsewhere) surveyed in the link say they “don’t really listen to music,” which I think is evil and wrong, but I won’t force them to change their evil ways. Am I saying people should buy music even if they don’t listen to music? Kinda. To abstain or take the option of exit seems to be denied many Asian citizens (and probably elsewhere, too), where music is blasted in public over loudspeakers. I’m glad Skinny Puppy got paid for their songs being used at Guantánamo, but I’m sure detainees and other captive audiences aren’t much concerned about artist compensation. https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/online-music-listening-preferences
Q. Free streaming service accounts supported by ads (i.e. Spotify. Even if you’re not bothered by your music being interrupted and financially supported by ads, I think it’s morally questionable, especially in the long term.) Kids I’ve talked to (some of whom equate music w/ Spotify or YouTube…scary!) who can’t afford a paid subscription need to talk to their parents about a family plan or listen to the radio, I say!
R. Repeatedly doing free, 1-month trials of streaming sites and canceling before payment.
S. Streaming music on YouTube or other sites while using AdBlock on your browser (on the assumption that artists aren’t getting paid if ads aren’t being played) as one’s sole source of music.
T. Streaming music on YouTube from accounts not connected to artists themselves or their record labels (YouTube polices this but is pretty lax, especially for more obscure artists, songs, etc.)
U. Download all of a friend or family member’s albums that you like w/out buying any of it oneself (assuming they were originally purchased properly).
V. Knowingly buy counterfeit physical media. (In developing countries, one can still buy counterfeit CDs of surprising quality and selection, and around the turn of the 21st century, this seemed to be the primary means of people there getting to own music. Maybe it still put food on street vendor families’ tables? And as w/ pirated DVDs, there are upsides to spreading culture to poor people. This phenomenon mainly affected the most famous, I assume, who were losing the most revenue. I do know a ton of stores were shut down in China.)
W. Repeatedly signing up for eMusic’s 1-month new subscriber bonus under different email addresses (I read someone’s account of doing this and it struck me as entirely too clever, maybe a way to ensure that eMu’s non-payment of artists worsens, possibly an active contribution to sinking the site once and for all?)
X. Use of (Russian or other) pirate downloading sites
Y. Stealing records or CDs from a college radio station (this one is personally irksome, having managed one and been a DJ)
Z. Stealing one’s way into a concert, making a bootleg recording (to be sold for personal profit), robbing the merch table, hacking into a label’s website to steal its music. Then maybe stealing a backstage pass and sucker-punching the lead singer or bandleader, slashing the band’s van tires afterwards.
Note that this is still a trichotomy. Placement in any of the three moral categories is just my opinion, and specific rankings are something you’re very welcome to argue for and change my mind. I hope the letters can be used as shorthand when doing so (i.e. One could argue X is worse than Z b/c it’s so easy and can be done on such a large scale.)
Perhaps some less moral options and certainly many morally ambiguous ones, IMO, can be offset by promoting the artist. You may tell me I’m deluding myself, but even if eMu is as horrible as some say for artists still on the site, I do believe that posting about them here, on FB, my website, etc. does a small but morally absolving bit of good to spread the word about what we all agree is mostly unknown music at this point.
My main contention remains that standard, dominant means of music access (via YouTube as on most of Reddit or other streaming services whether paid or free) categorized as “good” in a dichotomy b/c they do pay artists pay so little (literal pennies per month) as to be morally worse than an eMu subscription. Or at very least, getting on a high horse with a megaphone about how terrible eMu is compared to streaming is vastly overstated.
A streaming service subscriber who hopes artist compensation will get better somehow is, IMO, morally no better than an eMusic subscriber who is ignorant of its spotty record on compensation or who also hopes that it can become a viable business again and do right by artists.
In sum, yes, I’m still an apologist, maybe naive in optimism that eMu can still be a positive influence in a deeply unfair industry, whether or not it currently is.