Free Music! Really?

Free Music is a myth.  There is no free music.  All music comes at a price, if you are willing to pay for it.

Relevant magazine posted an article last week Why Music Should Be Free that has generate huge comment activity and it has certainly caught my attention.  Free music is a highly debated topic in my family and circle of friends.  I own over 1,000 LPs, 1,500 CDs and I have attended over 1,000 shows.  I happily pay a dollar or two more for a CD to purchase it at our locally owned record store than chain behemoths WalMart or Best Buy I think you can guess where I stand on the subject of free music.

The article has a few absurdities presented with the earnest sobriety of an article on health care reform the wide increases in life insurance quotes and global warming.  So let’s dive in:

  1. Unauthorized downloading of music is not free music.  Let’s be honest with ourselves that unauthorized downloading of music is illegal.  You know they call that stealing where I come from.  Read Ian’s article a from a few months ago, Christians and Copyright Laws, Is It A Big Deal. You can throw all of the rationalizations at me you want.
    1. If you cannot afford to buy the music, listen to the radio or buy less beer.
    2. If you think artists are over paid, you only have one vote in that transaction.  Don’t listen to their music.  If you love the overpaid artist so much you cannot boycott their music, then I guess they are not overpaid.
    3. If you believe the labels are evil capitalist pigs who artificially jack-up the price of mediocre music to fund their fancy offices, decadent lifestyles and unwarranted bonuses, I agree with you.  However, remember that labels sort through mounds of music and at least afford us access to a manageable subset of all the good and bad music being recorded.  If you are not willing to pay for their contribution to your music consumption, be prepared to spend hours on the Internet sorting through mounds of bad music to find the great music you like.  The labels have taken advantage of their historical position in the distribution chain, but that does not justify your theft.
  2. I find it hilarious that the article asserting that music be free cites two authors  who make strong arguments free music is a cultural right.  You can buy Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity and Free: The Future of a Radical Price at Amazon for $10.88 and $21.59 respectively.  I guess music should be free but the written word comes at a cost.
  3. Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future Price of Radical actually states in the article that “bands might give away music for free in hopes of creating and reaching more people who will one day attend a concert or buy an album.”  I have also heard people add tshirts and other merchandise into that mix.  In this logic we are demeaning that which is most valuable (the music) in hopes of selling something that is marginally valuable (merch) or something that that is quickly becoming unaffordable (concert tickets).  I also find it odd that  Anderson suggests that bands give away music to sell albums, when the large scale expectation of free music diminishes the very value of the albums they hope to sell in the future. That just makes my head hurt.
  4. Anderson also states “music was never intended to be a commodity that lived primarily in the transactional, economic space between producer and consumer”.  I find that odd because in 1890 the player piano was the primary source of music reproduction and the song reels were sold and sales were charted.  Even further back, popular and traditional music was distributed through sheet music that was bought and sold and tracked on popularity charts.  Throughout our history, we either learned to play an instrument and created our own music or we paid to play or listen to others’ music.

I stated earlier that all music comes at a price.  I wonder what you are willing to pay for it.  Are you willing to suffer the damage to your soul that comes from stealing (or as we try to justify our actions “sharing” or “downloading”) music?  Beyond the obvious Christian ramifications to Believers, stealing damages the thief, the victim and society.  If you believe an artist’s music is worth your time to download, space on your hard drive and your time to listen to it, then the music has value. Taking it without paying the artist devalues the artist and the art.

Stealing music pulls a thread from our collective agreement to honor the laws of our society.  If you only respect the laws that are convenient for you, why should others honor laws that are inconvenient for them?  Is it okay for a stranger to break into your house to sleep on your couch because they did not want to pay for a hotel room?  You still had your couch after they spent the night on it?  Why did they need your permission?

The logical outcome of this “right” consumers believe we have to freely take the music of musicians will result in the collapse of the economic ecosystem for music and ultimately lead to all musicians being amateurs.  I wonder how much great music Thom Yorke would make if he drove a taxi to pay his rent and made music between his double shifts?

200 years ago there was not a commercial infrastructure for music so musicians were supported by patronage.  That means the wealthy of the day paid the living expenses of musicians who made music who they liked.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if the democratization of music distribution led us back to a time where the music available was selected by the wealthy?

I eagerly partake of free music downloads that artists provide, but I don’t steal music. I am not willing to pay the price.

Am I out of touch?  Are my arguments hyperbolic? Do we have the right to freely consume the creations of others with no support of the artist?  Are you not concerned what free music will cost your down the line? Let us know.


  1. wendysnipes says:

    Well said…..

    Please—if you love Christian music…check this out….:

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