Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Confession: I download music for free...I do

Journal & Courier copy editor Erik Avila.
Erik says...
Leaks are the term for when music becomes available online before it's even in record stores, often months in advance. I don't know what my opinion is on this. I like hearing the music early, but it certainly makes the release date less exciting.

I have a confession to make. And no, dear readers, it's not that I am the father of Anna Nicole's baby. No, it's a much more dour and sordid tale, and I can only hope that once finished, I can still walk down the streets without being pummeled by justice-seeking citizens.

I download music for free. I do. I know as a musician myself and an outspoken supporter of artists' rights, it's a terrible thing to do. But, like the media with the latest dead celebrity, I just can't stop myself.

There's so much of it out there. Various blogs, file-sharing services, message boards and torrent sites all are loaded with music just waiting to be downloaded to my home computer and then uploaded into my iPod. A lot of it is brand new music, some of it not even available in stores, and within minutes, it can go from a zip file to a CD ready for play in the car or on the portable mp3 device of choice.

This is a large problem. Recently, The Recording Industry Association of America released a list of the top 25 universities in the nation receiving complaints for illegal file sharing, and Purdue was one of the top five schools. However, downloading of free music rarely is enforced.

For me, the guilty conscience from hoarding all of this free musical data comes from the idea that bands lose money when people are able to simply download an album without paying for it. Even though I know most bands make very little from individual album sales, it still seems evil to me. But in my own experience, this has not been the case. More than once, downloading music has led me to make more musical purchases.

The reasons for this are as follows: Most of the time, the records available for download are not of the highest quality. There's a lot of information in a CD, and to offer it for download at an extremely high bit rate (which guarantees good sound) is more work than most people are willing to go through. I am sure that some people would tell me that I am simply not going to the right sites, but this has been my experience. Therefore, if I find something that I like, eventually I am forced to go out and buy the actual CD in a record store in order to hear it with optimum sound quality. After a while, the downloaded version just doesn't cut it.

On the other hand, if I download something that I don't like, I simply delete it. In that case, as I see it, there's really no harm done. It's somewhat akin to the record stores that offer headphones for customers to listen to albums before they buy.

I realize that I might be unique when it comes to downloading music from the Web. Maybe some people download everything they can click on and keep it all, clogging up their hard drives until they are forced to delete some or expand disk space. But, if that's the case, in my opinion, they are not truly experiencing the music in it's truest form. And therefore, they are already being punished.