To Pay or Not To Pay (for music): The Ongoing Debate

I’m not sure how popular iTunes is these days, considering you can get so much music for free just about anywhere.  I, for one don’t like downloading music for free for two reasons: I don’t want to get viruses on my computer; and, when I go to work and work my butt off to earn a decent pay cheque so I can support myself and my family, I wouldn’t want my boss to say to me on pay-day that he isn’t paying me because he got someone else to do all my work for free.  That would piss me off, and everyone would say how awful my boss is for doing this to me, especially my close friends and family.

(WARNING: here comes a bit of an opinionated rant…)

If that wouldn’t upset you, then just skip to the bottom of the blog, but if you’d be upset too, then imagine you and your hypothetical band spend months writing music for a new album and then spend another half a year, if not more, in a studio working with a dick of a producer who won’t rest until you come up with just the right sound, and when you finally do, you have to wait another three months or so to have the album mixed and mastered and printed and distributed.  Finally all your hard work is about to pay off, but wait!  One whole person bought your album, put it on the internet, and everyone is now downloading it for free because they know that there’s only one sucker out there actually paying for music these days.


Guess you’ll have to tour and play a show every other night for two years straight just so you can earn back all the money you spent and all the time you wasted making the album.  Lucky for you your album was a hit online, and probably would have sold many records had it not been available for free (and perhaps if you had marketed it better), so most of your shows are sold out.

Bonus! Not quite, because after all costs of touring are covered and your manager takes his cut, you and your other 3 or 4 band members rake in just enough to cover what you lost in producing the album (not referring to studio costs, but in the time alone spent in writing the album when you could have been actually out making money at a “normal” job), with a few dollars extra to buy a few new guitars and amplifiers!!  Too bad it’s been two and a half years since your last album and the record company wants another one, so hop back on that horse and write that new album that no one is going to pay for.

Okay, I’ll shut up.  I know this isn’t EXACTLY how the business works, but that’s how I’d feel as a musician.  Some would say that that’s the cost of being a musician these days, and that’s fair to say, but I don’t think it makes it all entirely OK.

I know there are many people who disagree with me, and that’s fine, I know life is expensive and paying for music is tough to do if you can indeed get it for free.  I wrestle with it all the time, and if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t want to get viruses on my computer when downloading it, I would be awfully tempted to do it.  Heck, I even sample music on Youtube and Grooveshark at no charge.

I don’t have a problem with downloading music so you can sample it.  I just feel that if you sample a few songs and find that they are good by your standards, then it would be worth purchasing the album and supporting the artist.  Chances are that if you enjoy four or five songs on the album, you will most likely enjoy the rest of the album as well.  Also, albums are a fair bit cheaper than they used to be: lots of new albums can be purchased for between $10-$14, and almost all can be purchased from iTunes for $9.99.

Going to concerts of your favourite artists is a great way to support them, but if it’s in any kind of venue larger than a bar, you’re usually paying a minimum of $50.  That’s a lot more than the cost of their CD, let alone some bands’ entire discographies.  I know that CD’s can’t compare to the experience of a great concert, but I have been to several concerts that pale in comparison in sound and experience compared to the album.  On the other hand, I’ve been to concerts that blew my mind!  Either way, the debate will never end, but I’m quite interested to hear some commentary from the readers.

If you are unaware, iTunes gives away a free song each week on their home page.  They also supply Starbucks with a free “Pick of the Week” that you can pick up when you buy a coffee, or even if you don’t.  These aren’t all fantastic picks, in my opinion, but they are free by both the artist’s and the record company’s choice.  It’s a great way to promote a new artist or new song. and websites created by their respective artists also usually have free samples and streams of their albums or a few songs, at least.

According to Thom Yorke, we won’t be having this debate for much longer, anyway.  But incase he’s wrong, take a look every Tuesday at the iTunes homepage or at your local Starbucks for a new track and you may find something you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Below, I’ve listed 20 artists and one or two of their songs that have been featured as free downloads on iTunes.  These are the ones I’ve enjoyed the most, and have even purchased more music from some of them, thanks to this great iTunes feature.

  • Attack In Black – Blood (in the Tracks)
  • Grizzly Bear – Cheerleader
  • Rah Rah – Duet For Emmylou and the Grievous Angel and Tentacles
  • Yo La Tengo – Periodically Double or Triple and Here To Fall
  • The Wooden Sky – When We Were Young and (bit part)
  • Land of Talk – Some Are Lakes
  • Monsters of Folk – Say Please and Baby Boomer
  • Said the Whale – Gift of a Black Heart
  • Fruit Bats – Primitive Man
  • Owen Pallet – Lewis Takes Action
  • The Ghost Is Dancing – Louis Riel
  • Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition
  • The Heavy – How You Like Me Now?
  • Yukon Blonde – 1000 Years
  • Broken Bells – The High Road
  • Plants & Animals – The Mama Papa
  • Jason Collett – Love is a Dirty Word
  • Library Voices – Drinking Games
  • Young Rival – Authentic
  • The XX – Islands

Give ‘em a listen and you may find a few you enjoy as well!


~ by DR on June 11, 2010.

5 Responses to “To Pay or Not To Pay (for music): The Ongoing Debate”

  1. I completely agree with you my friend but also feel the pinch when it comes to money. I find myself downloading music for free and when I really want to support an artist I like or album I purchase it. My close friend only downloads from iTunes and he has tried to convert me many times.

    Thanks for the great blog.


    • Yea it can happen with the money pinch, so the temptation is so strong when you can so easily get it for free. Your close friend sounds a lot like myself, but as I said in the blog, I’m gonna sample an album and listen to 3-4 songs to ensure I like what I hear, and then purchase the album. If I don’t like the rest of the album, I’ll just purchase the 2 or 3 songs from iTunes and save the money I would have spent on the whole album

      Thanks for the input J-Rod!

  2. Free music is a win-lose situation. I am incredibly guilty of downloading free music. For me, it allows me to sift through a lot of good and bad music and find out what i like. The bands that have put out music that is worth buying often have their albums available on vinyl. The phenomenon of digital music is that deep down, people want to own a physical copy of the music they purchase, and having it on an ipod doesnt feel real. But if I download it for free, and decide that this is a band I would like to support, I search for it on vinyl because i want to own something i can hold in my hand. In my opinion, this is where bands will be making their money in regards to album sales, and honestly, it forces musicians to take their art seriously because there is so much to choose from and it is so easy to access. Just a thought.

    • Hey Stefan, I totally agree with you. The actual hard copy of the music is very important to me. I have never actually purchased a whole album off iTunes. I have purchased single songs or a few songs off an album, but never a whole album because I want the disc, jewel case and liner notes. My thought is also that if my computer crashes or my ipod gets lost or destroyed, there goes all my music I spent a lot of money on. If I own and keep the hard copy, I don’t have to worry about it! I like the idea of the musicians having to take their art seriously too, because you don’t get nearly as many one-hit-wonders with bands having to put out a solid album through and through so folks will buy them. Yet in the past, before downloading music was an option, you had to purchase a whole album for a hit single, whereas now you can just buy the single off iTunes… benefit to the customer who needn’t buy a whole album and even the artist, because they will still get royalties from the online purchase of their single. Boy, how the industry has changed.

      Thanks for the comment Stefan! Great feedback 🙂

  3. Of course, the week I post this blog, iTunes DOESN’T have a free song download for the first time in as long as I can remember!! Murphy’s Law…

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