Millennials are conditioned to the anarchic world of online piracy: a playground where any and all of our entertainment needs are available for free in high quality at the touch of our fingertips with relatively no consequences…to us, anyway. If you are one of the many millennials who is guilty of indulging in online piracy, then I am guessing that the tens of billions of dollars of losses to the U.S. economy and tens of thousands of lost jobs in the music industry alone are not important to you. What is important is that you are living in a time where you can hear a song and then instantly download it to your laptop, phone, and iPod; chop it up and make it your ringtone; burn it onto a CD for your less tech-savvy family members; mash it up with another song and upload it to YouTube; and copy its chords and reconstruct it into an original cover all without paying a single penny.
As one of the few millennials who insists on paying for music, I have had the pleasure of hearing just about every justification as to why this generation’s participation in this crazy cyber circus of free downloads and file sharing is not their fault. In this post, I will discuss four of my favorite myths of music piracy and the mistakes millennials make when using these myths to justify illegal activity.
Let’s start with the excuse I hear most often:
Myth #1: “I’m Broke”
If you’re guilty of preaching this myth, I am guessing that you are under the age of 26 and work at least a minimum wage job, if you have a job at all. When convincing yourself of this fable you take the time to pride yourself on your proficient personal finance skills, claiming that if you can obtain music for free then why not conserve costs? You then further justify your robbery of hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars of music with your incredible wanna-be talent agent skills by declaring that it is better to offer the artist “exposure” instead of never listening to them at all.
Why this is a myth:
I have witnessed the individuals who sermonize this myth proceed to shell out $18.50 for ridiculously overpriced tickets to an IMAX movie on a monthly basis on top of the $59.99 paid out for yet another zombie apocalypse video game, the $19.99 gleefully cashed out for the new book in their favorite book series, and, of course, the $15.50 for the giant cheese pizza they had delivered from their nearest Italian food joint when there was plenty of food in their fridge. With the money they spent on their food cravings alone, they could have purchased a three month subscription to Spotify PLUS the app on their iPhone that would allow them to take Spotify on-the-go.
If you relate to the above individuals at all then, like them, your issue is never the bank; it’s how you measure the cost of music relative to other goods that you purchase. This produces an unfortunate situation for the music business since the accepted religion of online piracy has created a reality where a buyer’s consumer surplus will consistently be in the red if they are forced to obtain music for any price other than no price at all. In other words—music is worth $0.00 to you and any figure above $0.00 is not worth your income.
You’re not broke. You just view giant circles of dough slathered in tomato puree, salt, and mozzarella cheese to be of higher value than the song whose lyrics you just plastered all over your Facebook page.
Myth #2: “Major Labels are Corrupt. I Will Pay for Music When More Money Goes to the Artist.”
If you spend time attempting to moralize this myth, you probably assume that major label executives sit on giant bags of money as they think of innovative ways to steal away their artists’ hard-earned profits. Finding this blasphemous, you don your hand-stitched mask to hide your secret identity (you’re a superhero, after all!) and rush to the nearest torrenting site to really stick it to the record company by not paying a single cent for their product! You surely have them foiled this time….
Why this is a myth:
Attempting to protest alleged corporate abuse of your favorite artists by strangling the profits of the record labels just makes you look like that kid on the playground shouting “he started it!” while being dragged away from a fifth grade cat fight. Record labels will never be altruists, however, strangulating profits to punish them for their greedy ways will only limit the amount of profits that the industry as a whole can benefit from. No record company ever has nor ever will hold an emergency meeting to allocate more money to the artist as their business is plummeting into bankruptcy. Furthermore, no matter how much the artist is paid by the record company, they will receive more when you spend $0.99 to purchase their new single on iTunes than if you pop the song’s URL into a YouTube to MP3 convertor, effectively giving the artist a whopping $0.00.
If you still loath the record company so much that you think eliminating the artist’s source of living is worth it as long as you can crush those darn megalomaniacs, then consider this:
If you are not giving money to the record companies, you’re giving money to the pirating mogul who just received a nice fat check from the company whose advertisement you just exited out of. Ad revenue generates millions of dollars for leaders of the online piracy business including Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and the recently arrested creators of The Pirate Bay. Essentially, these are people whose profits are procured from copyrighted material whose costs to produce range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few million. However, these robbers are reaping the benefits of other people’s work with very little production costs. This means that the business of pirating is almost 100% profit. I don’t know about you, but I think I would rather give my money to the villainous record execs sitting on their bags of money, looking over their contracts, and twirling their mustaches. At least they got up for work this morning.
With great power as a consumer comes great responsibility as a consumer. If you really care about the artist, just buy the music.
Myth #3: “Music Today Sucks! I’m Not Paying for This Crap!”
If this sounds like you, you have most likely created a strong bond with the music of your parent’s generation and refuse to accept anything with a synth to be acceptable to your eardrums. You claim that since no artist these days can make music, the few songs that you perceive as halfway decent can be ripped off of a torrent site and casually uploaded onto your playlist that you promise you never listen to.
Why this is a myth:
In competitive markets, producers enter an industry when the cost to produce goods is less than the profits received. Likewise, when production costs are higher than profits, producers exit the industry and resources flow to other sectors of the market. The music industry is quickly becoming a distressing example of the latter, wherein online piracy is causing the market demand for music to become so pitiful that industry players are attempting to squeeze out profits anywhere they possibly can. As a result, potential songwriters, artists, managers, and producers devote their skills and resources to other industries.
To illustrate this, let’s take three great artists: Mick Jagger, Art Garfunkel, and John Legend. These three artists—like many other artists—have skills that can be valuable across multiple industries. Mick Jagger dropped out of the London School of Economics to pursue his career with The Rolling Stones. Art Garfunkel invested his talents by being one half of Simon and Garfunkel instead of utilizing the M.A. he received in mathematics from Columbia University. And John Legend followed his passion for songwriting instead of spending time analyzing African American literature after studying the subject at the University of Pennsylvania.
At the time, each of these artists saw the music industry as a worthwhile investment. Today, as the industry becomes less and less profitable due to piracy, talent is less and less likely to flow to the business. Arguably, it would be more intelligent for Jagger, Garfunkel, and Legend to take their education to other sectors of the market if they were looking at the industry in its current light.
This example does not just apply to artists. Many great music acts were shaped by the managers and agents who pushed them to succeed. However, individuals with a great eye for talent and a great business sense to match will not invest their time and skills in an industry that cannot promise a worthwhile return on their investment.
No rational person wishes to enter a dying industry where costs of production exceeds profits. If you want music to improve, try giving incentives for talent.
Myth #4: “Music is Everybody’s Possession.”
This quote originated from John Lennon who I am pretty sure sat on millions of dollars from songwriting royalties and most likely would have protested if his entire catalogue was being confiscated for free by the business of internet piracy. Regardless, this quote has been adapted to fit the agenda of the modern age. All-too-often I hear millennials give the excuse that pirating music is their right since music is art and art should be free. Duh. It’s common sense.
Why this is a myth:
Music is not a public good. Sure, maybe music doesn’t work like that giant pizza you bought when there was already food in your fridge. Once you eat a slice of the pie, it’s gone forever--presumably quite happily--in your stomach. On the other hand, once you download a song, there is no additional cost to the producer if your friend comes along and downloads the same song (this is referred to as a “non-rival” good), assuming both you and your friend, you know, pay for it. So, yes, music is everybody’s possession in the sense that your use of a song does not hinder your friend’s use of the same song. That being said, music is still a private good that costs anything from a few hundred dollars to several million dollars to create. To record one single for sale it is likely that the song went through a production line of paid employees from the songwriter to the artist to the producer to the engineer to the graphic artist designing the cover art to the employees on the label marketing and distributing the song for the final sale (that you bypass for the free download on Kickass Torrents).
Music is not free. Nice try.
As consumers, we hold the power to decide the success or failure of a product. Usually, this system is proficient and puts quality goods above those of lesser quality. When it comes to online piracy, this system falls to pieces. If the music industry falters it will not be because they did not innovate or create a good product. The business’s failure will rest solely on the sense of entitlement possessed by most millennials who view the freedom of erroneous technology above the talent and skills of the artists they enjoy.
Katie McCort is a student at American University working towards a BS in Business and Entertainment with a concentration in telecommunications and public policy. She currently writes for Substream Magazine on legal and political issues within the music industry. Follow Katie at @KmMcCort