Once again, the issue of stealing music and its moral/financial/ethical arguments are dredged up. And once again, most people miss the overall point, causing the collective issue to dig a deeper ditch while those who’ve moved past it (i.e.: major labels) are busy raking in the dough in the new music business.

Yeah, you heard me. It’s 2012, and now the neophytes are actually many indie artists (not all) while the smarter ones tend to be concentrated at major labels, thereby strengthening their power.

What started this was a post on NPR’s website by an intern named Emily White who admitted to buying very little music in her life but owning a lot via various levels of legality. This led to an impassioned response by Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker frontman David Lowery, who eloquently argued for the ethical and moral obligations Emily should have towards these artists and how stealing music has dramatically impacted their financial lives. This post has sprung up impassioned responses by, among others, Bob Lefsetz and a manager who is also, coincidentally, named Emily White. People have dug in their heels and have spilled many hours defending and vilifying both sides.

Yet lost in this discussion is one important element. Facts. Because if you’re going to argue that stealing has impacted your business, you should actually prove that…y’know…a lot of people have actually stolen your music.

Google, as the worldwide leader in search results, is a strong indicator of actual file trade demand. In fact, industry watchdog Moses Avalon argued such this week at New Music Seminar. Yet, when I went to look on Google Insights to see the level of demand for free music by David Lowery’s group Camper Van Beethoven, the message I get is, “Not enough search volume to show graphs.” This basically means, from what I can gather, that less than 50 people per month in the entire world are even showing intent to steal his music. Statisticians basically refer to this as essentially zero. Technically, the same search terms for his band Cracker show some potential thievery intent at work. However, if you actually searched these terms, you’d find most people were actually looking for a program to crack site passwords, and if they were looking for music they were more likely intending to steal the music of Uncle Kracker, who might actually have a legit beef on music stealers.

None of this is to say that I’m naive to think nobody is stealing music. Far from it. I just don’t think they’re stealing the music of the majority of artists bitching about thievery’s impact on their business. The statistics don’t bear it out. At my panel at New Music Seminar, Musicmetric CEO Greg Mead pointed out that file trading is actually decreasing in recent months. This echoes what fellow panelist Russ Crupnick reported in NPD Group’s “Annual Music Study” back in March when they reported that P2P site activity decreased from 19% of the internet population in 2006 to 13% last year.

Respected blogger Cory Doctorow also noted last month that a summary of over 20 different papers on file trading shows very little impact on sales from file trading. Drew Wilson, the author of the summary, got his results from such “fringe” groups as The Wharton School, The Journal of Law And Economics, and The Journal of Business Ethics. The most interesting line in the summary to me is this one:

Judging by the evidence we’ve collected, the evidence does not point in the direction that file-sharing, in and of itself, displace sales, but rather, other factors would also play a role in displacement of sales.

The primary “other factor” is the fact that there are too many artists competing for shrinking dollars, largely due to the shift from albums to singles. Despite the economic number that David Lowery quoted of the number of professional musicians falling by 25%, if you took “album releases” as an indicator, it seems like the number of pros has increased. In a decade, we’ve gone from about 30,000 albums being released to over 77,000 last year. And that’s just albums going thru legit channels. The problem, as noted by Chris Muratore of Nielsen on the previously noted New Music Seminar panel, is that 94% of those releases sold less than 1,000 units. Indicators that I have examined showed those low sales aren’t because of people stealing them. They come from too many releases causing most people to not even realize they are out. For example, 80s rocker Lita Ford has a new album that came out yesterday. As of this writing, it’s the 91st most popular new release on Rdio. How many of you have the patience or time to sift thru the other 90 releases to get to #91? Let alone decide to even put in the effort to steal it? Whether you were going to listen to it or not, I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone reading this found out that Lita Ford had new music from this paragraph. Stealing it is even further down their priority list.

And now that you know Lita Ford has a new record, what are you going to do about it? If you have a remote interest in her music at all, you’re most likely going to listen to it on a perfectly legal source such as YouTube, Spotify, Rdio, Mog, Rhapsody or Slacker. Why? Because I bet you caught yourself subconsciously saying that it would be quicker and easier to stream it and see what it’s about there than finding a site to steal it from, let alone having the downloads clutter your hard drive. Guess what? This is what most people do now. Having a download on a hard drive…single or album, purchased or stolen…this is the 2012 equivalent of “buying a CD with one good song on it”. People are smart and will legally stream something before any sort of ownership decision solely because they don’t want their hard drive cluttered with music they don’t like. And guessing by the demographic of my readership, I would also guess most people just want to check out what Lita is up to and have no intention of any sort of ownership. The music would have to be mind-blowing to shift the decision from “let’s see what she’s up to” to “I need to own this”.

So while all these independent artists argue thievery, do you know who’s winning? Major labels. This week, of the top 100 tracks on Spotify, only 6% are on independent labels. Major labels have figured out that the game is about exposure and awareness, two things that they are actually quite good at. It’s not about royalty rates, thievery, or even quality of music. It’s all about how I get people to know I exist. Major labels aren’t ignoring file traders, but they have moved past how much of their day they concern themselves with it. Instead, they focus on putting energy behind making music that the public wants and marketing the shit out of it so it rises above everyone else. While you’ve spent the last few years claiming the major labels are “dinosaurs” who are going to be “out of business”, they’ve actually become stronger behemoths who are more progressive than you realize.

As for the quality of their music, that’s a subjective opinion. And it’s no more subjective than the independent artists who have figured out how to make a big business out of the new music business. Artists like Tyler Ward, Kina Grannis and Alex Day, amongst others, are making six figures a year in the new paradigm. They struggle to get respect from traditional media because they’re not considered cool, credible musicians. Yet they run rings around the businesses these so-called cool bands deliver. Why? Maybe it’s simply because they deliver the kind of music more people want nowadays. As far as I can tell, they spend not a minute worrying about the money they don’t make and instead spend time making more money from the sources that do pay.

I agree ethically with David Lowery’s assessment. A person who spends extra to protect migrant workers in a third world country but takes money out of musicians’ mouths is a hypocrite. Emily White should stop complaining about wishing for a Spotify-like service and actually…y’know…subscribe to Spotify. But for actually succeeding in 2012, it’s the wrong argument. The biggest problem that David Lowery has to face is exemplified by Zach, the 24 year old New Media indie label guy at the end of Bob Lefsetz’ response post to Lowery’s “screed”. When told by a co-worker that David is the founder of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, he replies, “Not sure what either of those are…”

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  1. Studiofeed June 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm # Reply

    A very logical take on an extremely complex issue. It’s true that the industry is more about exposure than stealing, and the numbers that you have provided back the fact up. It’s similar to a news channels constantly broadcasting crime stories when in fact crime rates in their area have decreased. It’s all about perspective, and adaptation to the changing landsape of the music industry.

  2. xtian5 June 20, 2012 at 4:08 pm # Reply

    You don’t search on Google to look up YouTube videos. At least I don’t. Even if I did, I would just type “camper van beethoven” and the video links come to the top. I’m not sure if that is considered in your metrics.

    • Jay Frank June 20, 2012 at 4:23 pm # Reply

      People search both Google and YouTube for YouTube clips. Certainly more searching on YouTube than Google, likely. Either way, that just leads to video links. The only illegal links on a YouTube search are videos placed on the site illegally. While still some form of thievery, those plays are easily converted to monetized legal plays if the copyright holder desires, unlike illegal downloading.

    • Joe Taylor Jr. June 21, 2012 at 8:30 am # Reply

      I know a lot of people who use Google to search “Google.” Be afraid.

    • Reid July 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm # Reply

      I use Google to search for Youtube videos – especially when I’m using Chrome.

  3. Michael June 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm # Reply

    More often than not I use Google to search for videos on Youtube, and I’d consider myself a more-than-proficient internet user.

  4. Ari's Take June 21, 2012 at 11:17 am # Reply

    I first want to thank Jay for bringing a different angle to this discussion. It’s very important to point out that the flood gates have in fact opened and it’s not as much about piracy as discovery.

    I am part of a large majority of independent musicians who don’t bitch and moan about the old music model and the “good ol days” when we could make money by sitting at home waiting for album sales checks to pour in. We understand the reality of the new music industry and embrace it. It’s a losing battle to scream that “it’s unfair.” It’s ALWAYS been unfair.

    I have spent the past 4.5 years as a full-time, independent musician spending about half of my year on the road making money. I had to get quite creative on how to make LOTS of money, but I have made between $35k-70k gross annual income as a completely independent artist (no management, no label, no publisher, no agent) by being smart about the business side of music and embracing the new model. I, like many of my friends’ bands, spend a big part of our year on the road and are building our fan base in a grass roots manner and actually making money.

    Do I think artists should be paid for their recordings? Absolutely. I shelled out about $15,000 for my latest album (thanks in part to Kickstarter). Am I going to cry that I won’t make this back on solely album sales? No! I will in ticket and merch sales and a bit of licensing.

    Bringing up artists like Tyler Ward and Kina Grannis points out that it is a whole new ballgame online, but what most industry heads don’t realize is that it’s a whole new ballgame on the road as well. I use the internet to bring people to my shows. While Tyler and Kina spend most of their efforts online, I (and many others) merge the digital and the physical worlds. I think it’s important to keep the physical world – the live show – alive. I’ve basically accepted that I’m not going to make much money online from my recorded music so I put it out online for discovery then use the exposure to get people in the door at the club. Recorded music is now a loss leader for everything else.

    Will musicians like me sacrifice quality in our recordings because people aren’t going to buy it? Absolutely not. It’s our art and we will perfect it and keep quality at the forefront of everything we do because that’s important to us as musicians and artists. But us young, independent, grassroots artists understand that to be successful in this new industry is to understand the reality and current state of the biz and use it to our advantage.

    I lay all of this out and explain how I did it and try and help other independent musicians enable themselves to do it as well in my (very new) music biz advice blog (shameless plug) Ari’s Take:

    Thanks for the healthy, constructive discussion.

    Ari Herstand (27), Minneapolis/Los Angeles

    • Rollie May 24, 2014 at 6:34 pm # Reply

      Nice Post Ari’s Take, nice to hear your making healthy living from your music!

  5. Tripp June 21, 2012 at 1:37 pm # Reply

    This still subverts the premise. Its not about music being stolen so much as its how many other hands are monetizing at the artists expense. Its a systemic issue far broader than potentially putting money into an artist’s pocket.

    • Jay Frank June 21, 2012 at 2:18 pm # Reply

      In any industry, a distributor will always make a greater profit than a content creator. To expect this to change just because the internet exists is to ignore business history.

      • TheMajorsSuck June 22, 2012 at 5:35 pm # Reply

        Funny for the longest time every article about the music business was about how the internetwork was going to kill music distribution.

        As you say this is about distribution and at the end of the day you have to have it Digital | Physical | Global and you if you don’t your release won’t be on Spofity, or any of the Value Chain like NARM’s EDI, the catalogs that go to the store online and physical.

        Got Distribution

      • Mojo Bone June 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm # Reply

        I think artists are okay with distributors getting more. We have a problem with getting nothing.The point is that a lot of folks formerly in the industry, the folks that were once paid through artists’ royalties, either before or after recoupment, are gone; they’ve vanished, because the monies that once supported them are no longer there..

  6. Watcher June 21, 2012 at 2:05 pm # Reply

    Just want to point out that Spotify is little or no better than i.e. Grooveshark when it comes to financial reimbursement of the artists represented there… They receive next to nothing from that “service”.

    • Jay Frank June 21, 2012 at 2:17 pm # Reply

      They’re actually a lot better because they license and pay. As I’ve noted in a previous blog entry, the true issue with Spotify is that the revenues are diffused to a far greater number of artists than in a pay-for-own model.

  7. DavidNotLowery June 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm # Reply

    Well, this seems to prove that not many people are stealing David Lowery’s music, which would be relevant if David Lowery were complaining about people stealing his music. But as far as I can see, he isn’t.

    As for the general points, one of the things that puzzles me about freetards and their apologists is that they simultaneously argue:

    (a) everything is free now, and there is no way you can stop it, so get a new business model (i.e., tour till you drop and sell teeshirts)


    (b) piracy doesn’t reduce record sales.

    Now, these two points are not strictly inconsistent – it is logically possible for something to be available free, and yet some people may still buy it – but you would think that anyone with a claim to intellectual integrity would feel uneasy about maintaining them simultaneously. If something is free, but people still pay for it, doesn’t that at least arouse your curiosity? And even if it is true now, unless we understand why, we have no way of knowing if it will continue to be true. For example, it might be a generational thing: older people might still buy records, while young people don’t. In which case, you then need to know whether the younger generation will start paying for records (including downloads, streams, etc, obviously) as they grow older, or whether they are fixed in the mindset that music should be free. I have seem very little research or even discussion of these questions.

    • Jay Frank June 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm # Reply

      The data actually shows that young people ARE still buying music. They’re just buying singles, not albums. They’re also choosier about what they buy than in years past. And they’re used to streaming on YouTube and others so they don’t need to buy or steal. I do agree that stealing is morally wrong and should be stopped. But I also think that of all the problems facing an artist in their quest to make a buck, the theft of their music is not in the top 5 things to worry about. I’m just prioritizing my life to make a business now, rather than waiting for some law that may never occur.

  8. Andy P June 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm # Reply

    To Ari, who says: “I, like many of my friends’ bands, spend a big part of our year on the road and are building our fan base in a grass roots manner and actually making money.”

    That’s all well and good, except:
    a) at some point, you won’t be able to tour. You’re 27. Good luck when you’re staring at 40 from the other side. No touring, no income (at least from music) because for all of your “building your fan base,” if you’re not touring and nobody’s buying records, then you have nothing to sell.

    b) It’s great if you’re able to license your music for use elsewhere (commercials, TV shows, whatever) but if you’re not a “current” artist with a track record, nobody will want to license your music. This means, again, when you’re looking at 40 in the rear-view mirror, unless you’re a significant artist, you won’t be able to license your work, and no licensing, no income (from music).

    Obviously, most musicians stop touring and stop working as musicians when they get older, and they get day jobs and all of that. I suppose the question is: if you’re only a musician — that’s your skill — what day-job options do you have?

    • Ari's Take June 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm # Reply

      This is quite a defeatist attitude. There are always excuses: “I’m too old, no one will like me.” “I’m too young and inexperienced.” “I don’t have enough money.” “My sound is what the kids like.” “My sound is too mainstream.” “My sound is too indie/experimental.” And on and on and on.

      You can’t be successful in the music industry by making excuses. There may come a time when I don’t want to spend half of my year on the road, so I will work harder to make more money elsewhere – licensing is a great outlet, but there are many others.

      If you don’t want to tour then you should get a teaching gig and play in a cover band because you can’t be an original artist and not tour – unless you’re a YouTube star. Dave Matthews Band built their following by touring and they are still one of the highest grossing touring acts in the world (with tickets averaging $45) and they’re in their 40s and 50s – with families.

      Also, working with music supervisors directly I can tell you first hand they don’t care if you’re 14 or 60. A good song is a good song. If it fits in the episode/movie they will use it. I’ve had many songs placed on TV shows and with enough placements it can be a pretty good income.

      The statistics that say you won’t make it in the music industry is because musicians make excuses and are lazy. Read this:

      Ari Herstand

      • Staircase2 July 5, 2012 at 4:20 pm # Reply

        You know I can’t sit by and keep quiet any longer…

        When I read your first posting earlier, almost from the first paragraph I was waiting for the ‘go to my website’ bollocks. Granted it didn’t come til the very end but it most certainly came…

        You can sit there and slag off all and sundry for not being as successful as you as much as you like but the point is other people DO have other experiences of the Music Biz from you – and (more importantly) their stories are every bit as valid as yours…

        You’re not the first successful person in the Music Biz to think that ‘if I can do it then anyone who isn’t is just a) lazy b) stupid or c) untalented…

        You’re also not the first successful person to be blinded by your own ego.

        If you actually stopped for 2 minutes to LISTEN to what the people are saying rather than launching into your well rehearsed spiel you might actually learn something…

        I haven’t been to your website and I don’t want to…The internet is awash with so called self-elected ‘success gurus’ telling us all how all we have to do to be successful in the Music Biz is to follow their own lead…

        This is a modern twist on the ‘I can make you a millionaire’ bollocks that regularly used to appear in American magazines (of course the ‘secret’ was to convince other people there was a secret and then tell them that the ‘secret’ was in fact to convince other people there was a secret etc etc etc…..sound familiar…?)

        The Music Industry IS failing into decline. I agree this is not entirely due to illegal downloads. In fact, when the Majors first started bleating about it, I was one of the first to point out their own chronic mismanagement of talent and resources over the previous 10-15 years during the period of globalisation and accountant takeovers.

        Our media (and, in fact our very culture) is fractured and fragmented. So far noone has discovered a way to turn fragments into fractals and turn the whole thing around.

        As someone said earlier, its now probably more important that noone actually knows any artists are releasing albums or singles because there is no media that focuses us on this. The gate keepers may have been dis-empowered but so far we haven’t come up with a reasonable replacement.

        The original response to Emily’s article was talking about how having a cavalier attitude to paying for musicians’ work is wrong and short-sighted.

        This isn’t the only area where young people have been short-changed in their education. (The irony is that they have been still BUYING ringtones in recent years….which is bloody odd!)

        That iTunes has invented a new way to buy music is great. What isn’t great is the ridiculously cheap price of a single. Given the number of units sold it simply isn’t possible for most artists to even cover their recording costs, let alone their living expenses.

        THIS has weakened Record Labels – meaning they don’t have the money to pump into new artists because they simply cannot make a return.

        THIS is what is killing the Record Industry. And this is what is meaning that the music they DO put out is watered down, lowest common denominator crap usually. This is not actually a judgement – its an observation. Almost ALL popular ‘artists’ are really actors/performers rather than creative artists.

        We have created a situation where they put out what they ‘know’ will sell to a given market and don’t deviate from that blue-print no matter how tedious and mind-numbingly crap it ends up making the music landscape.

        Full marks for Ari for ‘figuring a way to stay on the road for £30K a year for the next 50 years’ but I think we need a more grown up, inclusive and wide-reaching debate than ‘Merch Merch Merch’….

  9. Mary June 21, 2012 at 3:25 pm # Reply

    I absolutely agree,

    “A person who spends extra to protect migrant workers in a third world country but takes money out of musicians’ mouths is a hypocrite.”

    As a professional musician and educator who works with youth…. I’ve been really bummed the past few years that people (of all ages) don’t want to pay for music. Stealing is stealing!

    • Batarang June 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm # Reply

      I want to pay for music, books, movies, etc…just not what they’re asking for. 99 cents for a single mp3 download? please….

      • Lisa June 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm # Reply

        Do you really think that 99 cents is too much to pay for a recording of a song?

  10. Maurice Boucher June 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm # Reply

    This post makes many good points and more importantly moves above the fray of the demands for ethical behaviour on one side and the response that the virtues of social realism should guide the economics of creating art on the other. As you (and others like Lefsetz ) point out in your conclusions, the argument is now moot. The real players have moved on as its clear the debate will not be semantically resolved (at least in this instance).

    As is typical, the lack of resolution has left bad feelings between camps to simmer and then flash into sporadic firefighting like this one over Ms. Whites comments because it really is a facet of a much larger conflict between two views: pop culture as a legacy institution and pop culture as a type of new digital evolutionary engine, always re-adapting its dialectic between technology and story-telling with little care for the ideas that it has built itself upon in the past and the harm it cause in the future.

    The proof that the argument is now academic is that David Lowery is now an academic making an argument that is full of rhetoric designed to make an example of Ms. White while extolling the idea that making an example of her is the last thing he wants to do.

    I expect some will take issue with your research as an attempt to trivialize David Lowery’s footprint in the cultural landscape, but it is a point worth making because it relates to the strategy of the use of history of promises made by the shadowy business model that is the recording/publishing industry.

    When profits were rich the abuse was forgiven by even the most injured parties because of the human trait of hope and optimism in the future. “My chance will come” and “this time the dude seems legit” is a mentality the business model built itself on. Now its apparent that the people behind the business model are simply going to claim to be powerless and point to the low-level theft that has always been there and was written off the books when it was easier to hide shoddy accounting in larger profits than to do something about it.

    Musicians have been promised the possibility of joining the middle class while creating art for as long as there has been a middle class. It has always been an industry trope. The strategy was to distract with a few big visible winners and lots of small invisible losers which is a lot cheaper for those in charge than honouring the promise of most artists living a comfortable middle class existence. The historical proof that I always find the most relevant is that the majority of Mozart’s correspondence concerned hunting down royalties due, unpaid commissions and pirated sheet music while fending off his own creditors. Nothing changes in the human heart when greed and hope are the fuel.

    • Batarang June 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm # Reply

      Nice…especially that final paragraph.

  11. Jeff Price June 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm # Reply

    Hi Jay,

    This is a great article. I had a few thoughts in regards to the idea that:

    “Indicators that I have examined showed those low sales aren’t because of people stealing them. They come from too many releases causing most people to not even realize they are out.”

    Im not sure I agree.

    That is, music that is created exists regardless of its available to buy on iTunes.

    And music can only be found, for the most part, on iTunes if searched for. Therefore if iTunes has 500,000 releases or 20,000,000 releases it has no impact on music being bought as none of it is found if searched for.

    The number of releases distributed is not correlated to consumers “realizing they are out”.

    This non-relationship was also true in the old model.

    The hit to miss ratio of the majors remained the same regardless of the number of releases they pumped out.

    In regards to album sales stats….consumers buy music by the track not by the album OR consumers are listening to streams of songs and not albums

    Its like saying 8 track sales are down because of the number of releases. Album sales are down because consumers buy music by the track not by the album. This has nothing to do with a “volume” of release number.

    Finally, music sales by volume are way up, the net into artist’s pockets from recorded music sales are way up, and more artists are actually making some money off the sale and use of their recorded music now than at any point in history

    jeff price

    • Jay Frank June 21, 2012 at 4:26 pm # Reply

      Jeff, I agree with some of your points. You’re right that album sales as a measuring stick isn’t effective because it’s not the primary method of consumption. It’s why I started a singles label instead of an albums one. I also agree that those that are smart about it are certainly profiting more, despite the naysayers.

      While you’re correct on the impact of volume on iTunes, that’s not where discovery is happening. It’s happening on YouTube, multiple blogs, Facebook feeds, Pandora and more. Every one of those places pushes multiple new artists when most people find it difficult to digest one. Algorithms may not always get it right…you may have said you liked 80s metal, but never mentioned Lita Ford, and then Lita Ford doesn’t get recommended to you. Books such as The Paradox Of Choice talk about consumers, when faced with too many choices, make no choice at all OR default to most popular. Sales statistics are mostly bearing this out.

      If someone is not aware, they won’t buy or steal. If they are made aware of too many things, they won’t buy or steal. Any artist can work around this, and many of them on your service do. But you have to recognize this to work past that issue and find success in music.

  12. zoso June 21, 2012 at 4:34 pm # Reply

    too funny… maybe people aren’t searching for david lowery, but why don’t you plug in Edelle and see what search returns you get?

  13. Justin Boland June 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm # Reply

    To me, this doesn’t read like a real contribution to the discussion. Lowery’s “New Boss / Old Boss” presentation is full of data and very compelling stuff. This is a technically inept (from any kind of SEO auditing / memetic perspective, you didn’t even start doing research or finding data) attack on the marginal careers of two old rockers.

    You’ve got the “reasonable” tone down but there’s no content here.

    • Jay Frank June 21, 2012 at 5:35 pm # Reply

      I didn’t go out looking for data because I already had most of the data. Some of which I happened to have gotten this week from the NMS presentation I moderated with people from Nielsen and the RIAA. Two credible sources for such things. I only used CVB as an example because he authored the response. I could have used thousands of new and old bands to make the same point. So I have to respectfully disagree on the inclusion of content here.

    • Maurice Boucher June 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm # Reply

      I am really trying to understand your point of view. No doubt you’ve got the “dismissive” tone down. You seem to be saying data is the sole metric in a subjective debate on the degree to which the industry has adapted and moved on. Everybody concedes piracy as an issue so that can’t be your bone of contention concerning the quality of Jay Frank’s facts.

      All the data in this post seems to suggest that the degree to which two musician’s income has been damaged by digital piracy is uncertain. There is conjecture that this conclusion could be applied beyond this particular case to a wide array of artists that is, I admit, more informed by the circumstantial evidence that there is a lot of music out there, (and may I say) not a lot of quality, and not as many listeners as there used to be.

      What is the more salient inference that you can draw from this post is that the industry that licenses David Lowery’s music to the public has no interest in finding out to what degree Mr. Lowery’s income (and in turn their stake in his income) has been effected by these circumstances . While that is not a fact per se it does speak volumes to the premise of this post.

      The lack of content you speak of would be a factor in an argument on the correlation between the complete eradication of piracy and a simultaneous rise in David Lowery’s income. But that argument would also be moot before even being discussed because there would still be no “honest broker” to act as the record keeper unless all sales were direct from the artist.

      I repeat that I am mystified by your focus on facts to the point of dismissing the totality of Mr. Franks argument. I’m still not sure what that will get you besides a headache as you try to discern the forest of facts from the trees.

  14. PJ O'Donnell June 21, 2012 at 5:22 pm # Reply

    Lowery wasn’t complaining about losing money personally to illegal downloading, he was addressing the losses to the industry as a whole and the ethics involved in the people who are illegally downloading, people who would rather give their money to tech companies than to artists. Tech companies like Google created and encouraged the current paradigm because their business is driven by content, which they never want to have to pay for. And consumers lap it up because of course they’d prefer to get stuff for free, even if it does screw over artists. If they didn’t, then sites like the Pirate Bay would be out of business. (Furthermore, when Radiohead’s In Rainbows was made available for free, more people chose to illegally download it than give up an email address and obtain it legally.)

    So Lowery is trying to get people who illegally download to change their behavior. It doesn’t require a new law, it just requires them to be conscious of their choices and the effects they have. A legal solution to the tech companies’ behavior, on the other hand, is something that should be addressed.

    For what it’s worth, I plugged another independent band, Fugazi, and “torrent” into Google Insights and it showed a value between 20 and 40 (on a scale of 100) for the period between 2006 and 2010. I’m not sure actually what those numbers mean, but some people out there were clearly interested in downloading the Fugazi catalog. I would expect that, the more well known the artist, the greater the number of torrent searches. And I would also expect that, with regard to torrents, the popularity of the artists being searched for correlates to the popularity of those artists amongst the population under 40 (i.e., Camper Van Beethoven ain’t on the list.)

    • Jay Frank June 21, 2012 at 5:45 pm # Reply

      I realize that he wasn’t personally complaining, but one can presume that if he’s fired up to write such a passionate well thought out response, then he’s personally affected by it. I also agree with what David is saying from a moral perspective. From a business perspective, I prefer to argue (and enact on in my own business) that it is not the discussion we should prioritize. It just doesn’t make business sense.

      As for your Fugazi example, the index number refers to activity relative to that search term. So if you compared “Fugazi torrent” to, say “Katy Perry”, the Fugazi value would likely be 0 or 1. From the quick bit of research that I did, the Fugazi activity likely nets out to about 1000-1500 searches/month globally. Yes, the more well known the artist, the greater the number of searches. And it would be great if any number was at 0.

      As for age, it looks like Paul Anka theft is giving Fugazi theft a run for its money. Interpret however you’d like:

  15. Aaron June 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm # Reply

    I think this was a well written article and your point is well taken. However, the real problem lies with music itself. I have always said that no one would dream of asking a painter to come over and paint a mural for nothing, or perhaps, scanning in a copy of the mona lisa and then walking around town with a pic on his iphone looking at it all day.

    The problem is that music is inherently easy to take without asking because it can be recorded. The highest form of art in existence, in my opinion, and yet it is the most accesible and is often take without even a word or a fight. Try that with the painter around the block, or the digital artist working on logos and print ads.

    The bottom line is that people take music without asking, because they can.

    • Jay Frank June 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm # Reply

      Fully agree, though that is also subjective. Hit songs are actually making a lot of money, so one could argue that great music is being financially rewarded. However, some people I would call great musicians might bristle at what the public feels is great music.

    • art guerrilla June 25, 2012 at 9:24 am # Reply

      actually, people CAN and DO ‘request’ (or require) that tradespeople (NOT JUST ‘artistes’ -what makes them so special, again ?) provide free goods and services ALL THE TIME…
      (including doing murals ‘for free'; go into virtually any town that has a mural painted on a wall, or any school in that town with a mural: want to bet whether it was ‘paid’ for or not ? )
      people starting out in their field OFTEN do work ‘for free’ (or below cost) for all kinds of reasons (some of them foolish), mostly due to some largely mythical ‘exposure’ they’ll be gaining…
      *besides* the simplistic ‘arguments’ mr lowery makes, he ignores one MAJOR factor: um, in case he hasn’t noticed, times is tough ALL OVER, not just for bubble-headed, entitled musicians…
      i bet sporting events are seeing decreasing revenues; i bet just about ALL industries which are providing ‘non-essentials’ are having a decrease in revenue: don’t *those* people deserve to have *their* industry saved by the government ?
      WHO is going to spend money on stupid music, when they don’t know if they are going to have a job next week ? ? ?
      (PS i have *barely* bought any music over the last 20 years, and that is DIRECTLY and TOTALLY due to the asshattery of the music ‘industry'; and NO, have not ‘stolen’ (us reality-based people call it by its proper name: infringement) ANY music: i either live with the couple hundred CD’s i have purchased previously, download freebies on occasion, and pore over the offerings from (one of the greatest sites on the tubes!), but i NEVER buy any Big Music ‘products’…
      (oh, and make NO MISTAKE, Big Music is selling a PRODUCT, they don’t give a shit about ‘art’ OR the artists…)
      it seems incomprehensible that dave lowery is arguing to stay in an abusive relationship with Big Music, just ’cause Big Music is -like- so-o-o-o rich and powerful and stuff, and you don’t know who else will go out with you if you dump abusive Big Music!
      grow a pair, dave…
      art guerrilla
      aka ann archy

  16. The Telenator June 21, 2012 at 8:44 pm # Reply

    Some very interesting points made in this article; however, let me knock the wind out of the writer’s initial point by clearing up the false data or lack of data provided by searching for these supposed FACTS:

    When your friend burns 20 or 30 copies of his current favorite CD or, God forbid, someone makes an actual business out of bootlegging hundreds or thousands of CDs, NONE OF THIS information and data will ever show up on the best of Google search efforts. You sneak in a bag full of CDs to the concert and you can be off and running, and probably you’ll never be caught. But even if caught your only punishment will be confiscation and being booted out of the show — little or no monetary loss at 5 cents a CD disk. I’ll go as far as to say that the vast majority of music theft is completely invisible. Yet it is heavy traffic at times. And it is extremely damaging — and in ways that won’t show up on your other clever Google searching, either.

    • Jay Frank June 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm # Reply

      I agree that there is a lot of duplication going on outside the internet. Note that I was specifically mentioning “intent”, which Google is an extremely good indicator of. If there is a meaningful amount of duplication going on around a specific artist at the level you describe, I can safely guarantee that there’s a noticeable amount of similar interest thru internet searches.

  17. Richard Ray Harris June 22, 2012 at 7:18 am # Reply

    Ask a songwriter. Google is not a person who has written great songs, would like to continue to write great songs, once made a living from those great songs being played. Even though those songs are still generously being played, the songwriter royalties are drying up. When I look at how the perception of all music has narrowed to the generalized term, “bands,” I can’t help but remember what the “top 40″ songs were long ago. Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong, Tom Jones, The Beatles, The Four Tops, Petula Clarke, James Brown, The Supremes..notice anything? The majority on that above list tilt towards artists who weren’t writing their hit songs..the obvious ones who were at the time…Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones were exceptions. And there were session players, producers with points, sheet music sales, creative people all around the artists who could actually make a living doing this, attracting high quality people who make high quality product. Fast forward…it wasn’t because the bands suddenly wrote better songs, they were forced to because of the economics of paying out to songwriters. Has music improved? Look at a YouTube “oldie” song and see the commentaries from young people complaining that nothing today is as good.

    • Jay Frank June 22, 2012 at 9:47 am # Reply

      The internet has made any position have a valid audience. Yes, there are millions of people posting comments on how much better music of yesterday is than today. But there are also millions of people posting how much they love the music of today. Both are right, it’s all subjective. Regarding songwriters…I agree that the shift has made that profession more difficult. But it’s only because the economy is tilted more towards hits. Hit songwriters are making MORE today than they did 10 years ago. But the decreased volume in the “album tracks” and “non-hits” means little money for anyone other than the hitmakers. Is that right or wrong? I fear for my friends in that profession, but I just also thinks it means they have to work harder for music the public wants. For session players, etc. I also worry for my friends in that industry. But the rise in electronic music amongst kids, which has little to do with Google and everything to do with trends, means that we were headed in that direction anyway. I’m concerned, but I also know we must adapt. I’m not crying the loss of such vaunted music professions as piano roll producers, bands on live radio, or even saloon piano players. The times change and we must change with it.

  18. Mike June 22, 2012 at 4:56 pm # Reply

    I buy music, but I know many people that gave up trying to get music via torrents because of the time involved. Many just trade hard drives or hook up devices to someone else’s library.

  19. Woody Price June 22, 2012 at 8:26 pm # Reply

    Plz put me on yr mail list thx woody price

  20. Steven C June 23, 2012 at 1:16 am # Reply

    What I dislike about the stealing of music is the entitlement. New generations feelingnthey honestly deserve something for nothing. I realize that it’s an entirely different issue though, isn’t it? The original argument, I realize, was more around: is it hurting artists and the industry as a whole.

    Music bothers me now more than it ever has. In the 80s, the masses didn’t buy The Smiths, they bought John Cougar and Michael Jackson albums. So we’ve always had major popular artists. They may have not been your thing, but you could imagine how some people could like them.

    In the early 90s, great bands like Suede didn’t really get noticed or sell, but the bigger bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam sold 10,000,000 albums and were still quite good. So when the Spice Girls came along in the second part of the 90’s, I could ignore them. I had OK Computer and you could dismiss bands like the Spice Girls.

    Now, it seems that the industry is filled with Spice Girls-like acts. Artificial, contrived, gimmicky, and to be blunt, amd creatively talentless. (See Lady Gaga, see Katy Perry, see Maroon 5). It’s disheartening that these are the albums that sell. My fear is that we won’t ever see another David Bowie, or another Morrissey or even another Prince. In the past 12 years, I can only think of three new artists with very high artistic quality (namely Black Keys, Bloc Party, and most of what Jack White gets his hands on.. And I suppose I can see the talent in Adele.)

    I’m always eager to share my point and it sparks arguments like “what’s wrong with Maroon 5?”

    Well, you sort of get the feeling they’re all sat around a big table strategizing, “if we make this overly-polished pop song, and we have Wiz Khalifa as a guest, that would sell!” real artists weren’t in it for this.

    I also get a lot of this, “you say Lada Gaga is gimmicky… What about PRINCE?”

    Reply: “how could you even compare the two. One man who writes every note, typically plays most instruments on his albums and had strings of masterpieces released a mere 12 months apart. And while he may have had some gimmicky outfits, here’s why he’s not reliant on gimmick. When Lady Gaga climbs off stage, she turns back into Debbie, some chick who likely wears Jeans and New Balance. Whereas Prince will perform a show in 5-inch heels, and you know damn well hat when he gets backstage, he puts on 6-inch heels.

  21. Jean Renard June 23, 2012 at 2:30 am # Reply

    This debate misses the whole point and your “show me the damages” continues the error. How much actual monetary damage is caused by not educating a child? We are not dealing with a simple product loss but the destruction of an environment that allows for the creation of art.

    Apple invests a lot of money into R&D, lets call it the creation phase, then it moves to the production and finally distribution. Without R&D there are no new Ipads or software innovations. What is the loss there? The future of a company is often waged on innovation. By creating an environment in which artists cannot survive the loss is enormous, if not absolutely quantifiable.

    When we understand that music is an art, then we can begin the conversation on how to protect that delicate ecosystem. This is where we need to focus our attention. How much damage is the destruction of an ecosystem? By now we are experts at this part, we destroy a lot of them, how much is culture worth?

    Finally to those that claim that making a duplicate takes nothing away from the original and therefore there is no loss, I would say this, if you start flooding the world market with diamonds, their worth would plummet. Trust me the guardians of the the diamond gates will kill rather than allow too many of their stones to flood a market. The diamonds stay pretty and shiny, but not their relative worth and soon they will not be worth enough to dig out of the ground. it might be nice for a few people to look at economic principles before they argue such points.
    We are at a precipice, with the loss of common carrier protection and the salting of the fields by the major media companies, a solution must be found and fast, the internet alone will not provide that solution. Many of each side’s arguments are valid, but they all miss the deep roots of the problem.

    • Jay Frank June 23, 2012 at 7:49 am # Reply

      I agree on education but you also inadvertently proved my point. Like your diamond example, the world is now flooded with music. As such their value has plummeted. The internet lowered the barriers and now there is 3-4x the amount of music being released and it’s easier to get to all of it. As I argue in the post, this is the true value loss well before the theft of tracks. And despite all that, when I say that 13% of the internet steals, it also means 87% doesn’t. Digital sales of tracks and albums keep rising each year. Legal streaming is rising. I agree that if we can address the roots, we may get somewhere. But so far, most suggestions are about cutting the weeds.

  22. Moses Avalon June 23, 2012 at 7:49 am # Reply

    You know, I realized metrics are the new black but somehow and at some point we need to just face the facts that numbers and statistics just don’t really get to the heart of matter.

    You may not know this but, there’s no scientific proof that smoking causes cancer either. However, it would be foolish to think that just because we can’t make a definitive, causative link between A and B that there is no link between A and B.

    When it comes to illegal P2P filesharing of music and sales we have an analog. We may never be able to prove one causes the other but you would have to be pretty freaking stupid to not realize that one has an effect on the other.

    And it is very hard to think that effect anything other than negative.

    We can sit around and be clever with numbers all day long if it makes us feel superior and evolved, but at the end of the day sales are compromised and the public perception of our product is eroding at an even quicker rate. Does anyone have any metrics that will make me feel better about that?

    • Jay Frank June 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm # Reply

      I’m not trying to argue whether the activity is right or wrong. It’s wrong, to be clear. I’m talking about prioritizing for a business. I also see many examples of artists who focus on the tools and are making money on their music without complaint. They’ve adapted. And also, it feels like the argument is going to be moot as these same stealers shift to streaming. The money issue won’t change, but the activity is shifting to legal ones. Is education about an issue that appears to be fading a wise use of time and money? Maybe is, maybe not. But, again, I’m getting to the root of what a musician needs to do to make money today. And my contention is that other issues than theft take priority.

      • Moses Avalon June 23, 2012 at 5:25 pm # Reply

        But theft is like a tiny leak in a boat. You can rationalize, “well the deck needs cleaning and barnacles need to be removed and there’s 100 other things of that it need to be a better boat. But, that leak is still something to worry about no matter how small or insignificant because eventually it will sync the entire boat.

        And so far streaming only looks good on paper. So far, and I’m not saying this will remain constant, the money just doesn’t compare to selling shiny little disks.

        • Moses Avalon June 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm # Reply

          That should’ve been sink the entire boat not “sync.” Thank you Apple Speech to Text.

        • Jay Frank June 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm # Reply

          It all circles back to the original point. Streaming definitely does not and will not pay at levels like physical. But hit songs will achieve volume that likely will allow those songs to have financial success greater than the physical years. The songs that don’t bear repeat listening will suffer financially. I am not arguing to ignore theft. Just that this is not the most pressing problem and I don’t sense, unlike a boat leak, that after a decade this is going to get significantly worse.

  23. Mojo Bone June 23, 2012 at 11:19 am # Reply

    Deliberately misses the point. And it’s not a complex issue.

  24. Closeyoureyes June 23, 2012 at 11:29 am # Reply

    Interesting argument – except you’re totally wrong. So illegal file *trading* is decreasing? According to your own stats, illegal file *trading* in 2012 was 2 billion. Projected digital track sales = 1.27 billion. So theft is almost double the legal sales. I’d say that’s a pretty big problem.

    Q When is stealing *trading*?
    A. When you really really really want stuff without having to pay the owner for it.

    • Jay Frank June 23, 2012 at 11:49 am # Reply

      Illegal downloading is an issue that I do not dispute. However the bulk of those files are not the artists starving, but the big artist who still make a lot of money. The argument is that individual artists who claim stealing hurts their ability to make money are incorrect when you look and find too few people stealing their music to begin with.

  25. Jeff June 23, 2012 at 12:06 pm # Reply

    So… question. Did you check for any big artist via the same google searches?

    I just took your same searches but replaced “cracker” with either ‘gaga’ or ‘lady gaga’ and got very similar numbers to those you got for cracker. Numbers less than 100. Given what you wrote, it appears that Lady Gaga’s work isn’t being copied either, and she’s obviously on the other end of the “obscurity to huge” spectrum.


    • Jay Frank June 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm # Reply

      Yes…the bigger the artist, the more file trading activity. In fact, those affected the most by file trading with the bigger share of stolen files are those very artists at the top. Activity in both sales and theft, for the most part, correlates to the relative popularity of the artist and the song. Oh, and those searching to steal Cracker, as noted in the blog post, are likely looking for a password “cracker” program based on the search results I got.

  26. Dan Aloi June 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm # Reply

    Nice article, Jay. I am behind Lowery’s position for the most part, although I’ve done more than my share of downloading. I also buy music, all the time, and try to support artists (and I agree, there is too much out there to make discovery easy). The (subjective) issue I have with the long-slide *devaluation* of music is that pop music itself either retreads (or reminds one of) something commercially viable from the past, or, (as it has always done) follows trends and sounds that will result in a VERY short shelf life. Great music speaks to new listeners of any age, across the ages. And novelties and trends may grab attention but have no nutritional value (’twas ever thus). This whole Autotune phase will pass, I hope, and in a few years the consensus on that may be ‘what were they thinking?’

    • Jay Frank June 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm # Reply

      Well, now we’re getting into the discussion of “what is art” and that’s one that can never be finished or won. All I know is that “disposable artists” from 2000 such as Britney Spears are still around, while most of the more “credible” ones from that time period have faded to obscurity. It may be sad as a music lover that this is happening, but that’s just the times. To your point, if it’s great music, it speaks for generations. Adele has no problem selling well north of 10 million worldwide in a little over a year with piracy running rampant. While I’m presuming it would have sold a few million more without theft, it still doesn’t appear to be an artist hurting for cash.

  27. Christian Unruh June 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm # Reply

    There are a lot of great points throughout here and I may not be adding anything due to the high level of the participants and volume of responses here, and on Lefsetz’s letter.

    In the very first place Emily, as a college radio intern, is the wrong person to pick on. The majority of us, in the “biz”, from college interns to Clive Davis did not pay for all our music. I had been out of the radio promotion business for 3 years before I started buying music again. Even now I am hyper-selective because the closet of promo CDs I have never heard beyond the singles. But I agree with his general point and especially with the sentiments of people like Jean Renard. A lack of sensitivity to the idea that file sharing is not only illegal, but wrong, is pervasive. I am wary of the “loss leader” argument for music because no one ever says that about car insurance or any other product, artistic or not. If the artist decides they want it to be a loss leader that’s fine but otherwise it’s unfair. You can try and sell t-shirts and hoodies with the Geico lizard all you would never be enough for Geico to survive if they could not get paid for providing insurance.

    As for the argument made – “well just go out and tour” . . what if you don’t want to or you are making music in a poor country and can’t afford to tour? Do we ask painters to give away their work and say, “Hey, go give painting lessons” to pay for your paint and canvas. Not to mention the producers and others who get a royalty on album sales, not ticket sales.

    Kids, and adults, are still stealing and swapping music and this is in part a failure of parenting and education and a general sense of selfishness and greed that just exists in human nature and our society. It bothers me immensely that many people, especially young people, have not even a shred of guilt about owning 10,000 tracks and not paying for any of them.

    • Moses Avalon June 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm # Reply

      “It bothers me immensely that many people, especially young people, have not even a shred of guilt about owning 10,000 tracks and not paying for any of them”

      Don’t look now, Christian, but you just found someone to pick on. The same chick Lowery choise. :-)

  28. David King June 23, 2012 at 8:35 pm # Reply

    If you want to know who people are downloading, go look at

    Right at this moment, a half dozen people are downloading Camper Van Beethoven. By comparison, about a thousand people are downloading Lil Wayne – Tha Carter IV.

  29. AndyT June 24, 2012 at 12:11 am # Reply

    When told by a co-worker that David is the founder of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, he replies, “Not sure what either of those are…”

    I do not think that every illiterate idiot deserves any attention. My friend, a software engineer from Google, around 27 years old once asked me “who are the Beattles? Why they are considered important by some people?” Other people may ask who is Alice Cooper, or what’s the band is Rammstein.

  30. jp planes June 25, 2012 at 9:31 am # Reply

    another good point/counterpoint here to add to the amassing coverage of this issue, but I think one thing that is sidestepped a little by the denouncement of Lowery’s lack of evidence (i.e. the Google metric) is that using Spotify and services like it, while technically a subscription, is pretty close to stealing. And, that likely won’t show up on a Google metric. The artist gets something like $0.004 per stream. I think statisticians might call that essentially zero. Spotify claims that they plan to increase their payout to artists in the next year which takes it to a whopping $0.005 give or take. The thing that Spotify does is protect people who would otherwise be pirating music by giving them legal access to tons of music. That’s their whole business model. They are monetizing the pirate but not adding value to the work. While it may seem noble to provide a platform for such exposure and give a little bit to the artists in the process who would otherwise not see a penny from a large base of listeners, keep in mind that the CEO of Spotify is one of the ten richest people in the UK.

    • Jay Frank June 25, 2012 at 9:45 am # Reply

      If one thing is legal and another isn’t, I’m hard pressed to say it’s “close to stealing”. If you don’t like it, don’t put the music on Spotify, which many people do. But what Spotify does is pay by volume. If your song isn’t good or popular, it doesn’t play much and therefore doesn’t “pay” much. Check out my previous posts on Spotify here and here.

      • Craig June 26, 2012 at 9:58 pm # Reply

        Jay, I’ve read the numerous comments on free music (ie: stealing) and have to admit to being dismayed, as a musician who creates in a spare room, on home studio gear. Are there still avenues worth pursuing to sell my work? I won’t quit of course, because this has been my passion for most of my life. It’s just that the technology has now allowed me to produce high quality product, at home, but from what I read here, it seems futile to think that I would see any monetary reward for my efforts. No dreams of grandeur here, I’d just like to offset some of the equipment costs. Any suggestions ? Thank you.

        • Jay Frank June 26, 2012 at 10:03 pm # Reply

          My opinions…it’s hard to make money from music, but it’s always been hard. Many people would also point out that people who make music for the monetary reward often gain, and those who just follow the passion to the edge find the rewards follow.

    • lowestofthekeys June 25, 2012 at 10:39 am # Reply

      “About 70% of Spotify’s revenues (advertising + subscriptions) gets paid to the rights holders of the music. This is before Spotify covers their own operational costs (which are still higher than the remaining 30% ) Each month the pay out is calculated based on the revenue and the number of streams. That explains for the different rates each month”

      Spotify actually loses money to make their payouts to the labels.

  31. Alan Warrick June 29, 2012 at 11:37 pm # Reply


    if we are looking at unit sales then there are somethings to be said. First let me say that music cannot be digital. Music must be analog. For one thing, our ears and our brain are not digital but analog. Digital music sounds a lot like music but not really enough. There’s something magical about the record player that touches the listener on a deeper level. This may be because we are analog communicators. You may look into the natural rhythms of the human being to see if that’s true.

    Technology has it’s usage in the advancement on the business of music. However, it’s kind of like a bell curve. It reaches a point in the middle where it’s resonance. This is the point that maximum output is reached. Either Max impedance or current. A lot of things have this bell curve and I think in music when we take a sound and turn it into digital meaning high or low, on or off it doesn’t have the same natural vibrations as some methods of communications in music do. On a magnetic tape a signal is magnetized not a series of bits each one being either high or low. Digital is good or storing information because that is what is stored on a digital medium but music is not information. Music is a environmental expression in organized sound. I am not saying digital instruments are bad such as a synth but the method of expressing music on a storage device should be analog.


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