Is Having Music Stolen Good for Bands?

As we near completion of our first album, my band has been discussing the best ways to a) get our album heard and b) get our album bought, in order to recoup the rather substantial investment we’ve made in it. There are some in the band who feel that we put a lot of hard work and cash into making this record, and that we should be adequately compensated by those who will enjoy the music.

I certainly understand that feeling, but my contention is that the more people who hear our music — whether they’ve paid for it or not — the more people will come to our shows and the more cds we’ll actually sell. So I’ve advocated things like streaming the whole thing online, licensing songs for free to other aspiring artists for use in their art, etc. My reasoning for this is that the value of recorded music as a product is — in economic terms — quickly approaching zero. It’s simple economics: supply and demand. The ease of digital recording and distribution have greatly increased the supply, while demand has generally stayed the same. And, in our case, demand is — at the moment — pretty much zero. The only way we make our musical valuable is by creating demand; the only we we create demand is by getting people to hear our music. And they won’t hear it if they have to pay for it — there’s just too much other music out there that they don’t have to pay for.

While I get most of my music via the subscription download service Emusic, I’ve definitely “stolen” music — burned friends’ cds, etc. — that I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend money on. Sometimes I listen to the album, am unimpressed, and forget about it; but if I like it I’m far more likely to buy the band’s next album or spend money on tickets to go see the band when they come through town. Sometimes I’ll even buy a copy of the album that I already got through illicit means so that I can have the physical artifact itself and provide additional support to the band. For example, I wasn’t sure that I would like Art Brut‘s first album, but having burned a copy from a friend, I discovered I loved their sound. I wound up buying both their second album as soon as it came out AND a copy of the “stolen” album, and have gone to see them live three times. That never would have happened unless I had been able to spend some quality time listening to the album, and I would never have gotten that quality time without “stealing” the album.

So I’m curious: am I an anomaly, or part of a larger trend? Do you steal music? If so, does it make you more or less likely to pay for future albums, and more or less likely to to go see a band in concert?

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