Stop Worrying About Pirated Music

Why musicians aren't being hurt by the availability of digital recordings

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Music-lovers, rejoice! The industry has life in it yet. Chronic gloom over file-sharing, falling CD sales, and the future of music has lifted slightly with news that artists' revenue in the UK is actually up. Live performances are key to the rise. Web-friendly pundits are delighted that, contrary to popular belief, free downloads haven't killed the music industry, and that the musicians themselves are doing as fine as they ever were. Even classical music aficionados have reasons to be optimistic. Whether you tend toward Beethoven and Schoenberg or Radiohead and 50 Cent, here's why you shouldn't start the funeral march just yet:

  • 'The Graph the Record Industry Doesn't Want You to See'  That's how the London Times' Labs blog introduces a graph showing "the fate of the three main pillars of music industry revenue--recorded music, live music, and PRS revenues (royalties collected on behalf of artists when their music is played in public) over the last 5 years." It turns out that "revenues accrued by artists themselves have in fact risen in the past 5 years, despite the fall in record sales." A lot of this is from live performances either by the artist or by someone covering the work. This and other data leads the Times to conclude that when folks say "'the music industry' has suffered from the growth in illegal file-sharing," it would be more correct to say "how much the record labels have suffered."
  • Finally, the Mainstream Media Has a Revelation  Techdirt blogger Mike Masnick is glad that the "prevailing favored narrative ... [of] the music industry [being] in trouble" is finally faltering. He points not only to the Times graph but to a "recent Harvard study ... show[ing] that revenue in the overall music ecosystem [is] significantly higher today than in the past." It's the "business of selling plastic discs that's in trouble," not anything else. He also pulls an important conclusion from the Times piece: "the chart," he says, "proves the point we've made over and over again: musicians see such a tiny part of recorded music sales that this has had almost no impact on their revenue at all." Thus, illegal file sharing does little to musician's revenues except, possibly, help them--anecdotally, there is much evidence that free songs lead to larger turnouts at live performances.
  • Think Logically: There's No Way Piracy is the Problem  Andrew Dubber at Music Think Tank looks at two articles, one saying that "people who download music via peer-to-peer services spend more money on music than their non-filesharing peers" and another alleging that "the net drop in CD and download sales overall has increased concurrent with, and as a result of filesharing." Both are from reputable sources, he says, yet it they seem to contradict each other. But if one thinks "logically," Dubber argues, it's easy to reconcile both studies with a simple conclusion: decline in CD sales probably is due to more than just illegal file sharing.
  • The Classical Perspective  Even classical music fans, who are accustomed to thinking their side of the industry rather more doomed than others, may have reason for optimism. Jens Laurson writes that, in fact, the past 20 years has seen advances in recording technology that have left the classical music world recording-rich like never before: orchestras may now record live with little "qualitative differences" between this cheaper option and a studio recording. Orchestras like the Bavarian Radio Orchestra have found that, "since the cost of recording is offset because [the Bavarian Radio] records the concerts anyway, releasing rare and 'difficult,' but artistically important works with modest commercial prospect is made much easier." Meanwhile, American orchestras once handicapped by union demands can now record more as well, and will be offering "high resolution downloads, which will be the next big thing in the classical music market." The conclusion? "Out of the detritus of the old recording companies spring dozens of new labels with thousands of recordings, offering more choice and rarer works than were ever available."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.