josh knowles presents
"Small Thoughts"

Downloading MP3s
January 26, 2002

At Kinko's again, downloading some mp3s to listen to later. A friend set up an FTP server with a motherload of albums available for download in mp3 format, so oftentimes I'll come an download one or two while doing something else with the Internet at Kinko's. I'm not oblivious to the fact that I'm not only breaking laws but preventing artists -- many of whom do not sell enough copies of their music to make any sort of profit -- from receiving royalties for their work. This sits in the back of my mind and bugs me every time I come in and download another hour of music. I've developed a system of justifications, though, figuring that I, as a musician (of sorts) can empathize (to a degree) with the people whose music I'm effectively stealing. Or maybe I'm just bullshitting myself into the free music that I want.

Anyway: I download more music than I would ever buy. In the past two weeks, I've probably put onto my harddrive, oh, fifteen albums-worth of material. And I've deleted maybe three of these albums because I didn't care for them. So, let's say a dozen albums -- more than I would have ever bought and, frankly, more of the music I like than I would ever hear on the radio or at coffeeshops in two weeks. It helps me grow as a listener just having this sheer amount of new sonic input to enjoy and think about, and since I'm trying to get my musicial shit in some sort of order this year, going out of my way to be as aware of the current scene as possible seems necessary. I have yet to buy any of these twelve albums that I've downloaded, so I can't say yet that I'm giving the music a "trial run" before buying, though I do have a few new bands in my head, now, whose live shows I would definitely go to, so I guess the mp3s act as a sort of advertisement that could eventually get money out of my pocket for the band.

That concept sounds similar to the concept behind (I imagine) radio and MTV: they'll give you a good song (or several) for free hoping that you'll be enticed enough to buy the whole album. And Phish allowed the recording and distribution of live bootlegs because (I imagine) it boosted not only their hippy-go-lucky image but also show turnout. It's shitty to apply my reasoning to someone else's goods and services, saying, "Well, I'll take this for free because, you know, it might make me more likely to do x and y that would give the band money." If that's not what the artists want, that's not the way it should work.

Maybe the solution would be to try and contact the creators of the music that I plan on keeping on my harddrive so that I can send them, say, $6 in the mail. The theory would be that I find it worthwhile to give the artist some reward, but not so much the record labels and music stores. I guess this invites a whole different set of problems since both provide their own services to the music market (such as promotion of music to the masses and the filtering of all of the many, many releases each year into a most-worthwhile cream) and I'd hate to see a store like 33 Degrees go under because everybody was trading mp3s and not buying music. I'd also be sort of admitting to the artist that I copied the music and was bypassing everything else -- they might not be happy about that.

So what's the solution? How do I justify downloading all of this stuff when I wouldn't buy most of it in the first place but enjoy most of it anyway? Can I actually provide a service to the bands? Should I drag friends to their shows? Recommend them to everyone I meet? Maybe that's the solution.

Could be the mesh of creative expression and economy will just never be perfect. So...