Paying For Music: A Persuasive Speech

Guitarhead Dylan says “Pay for music, please!”

I’m currently enrolled in an oral communications course at my university this summer.  During the semester, we are to perform 3 speeches.  Our third speech is supposed to be a persuasive-style speech, so I decided that I’d try to persuade any non-purchasers of music (see how I avoided calling them thieves!) to actually spend money on music—if not now, then at least once they’ve graduated.

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I’m going to ask you 2 questions, but I don’t want you to answer them out loud or by a show of hands or anything.

The first question is: Have you ever acquired music that was not offered for free without paying for it? If you silently answered yes, what were your reasons for not paying for the music?

I want you to keep those questions in mind as I ramble on here for a few minutes.

Why are many people so very torn between paying for music and not paying for music? What’s the real issue?

Maybe it all boils down to the possibility that each one of us has purchased an album in the past with high expectations, only to be completely let down, thus in turn feeling ripped off for having spent $15 on something worth much, much less.  Maybe “stealing” that artists next album by illegally downloading it was our little form of justice, an “up yours” to the jerks in the band and at the record label, all the way down to the record store employee who swore to you “This album will blow your mind, man!

Should we be paying for music, still?  The more I think about it, the more I question it all.  But there is one thing I don’t question, as it is fact: when I get music and don’t pay for it, NOBODY benefits but myself.  I am the only one coming out ahead.  I’ve faced no trade-off.  I’ve acquired something for nothing.  Did I just steal? Is it stealing if I can justify to myself that it isn’t?  Is stealing even wrong anymore?

I don’t want to preach to anyone here.  I just want to plant a small seed of awareness, and do so by explaining why I purchase music.

But first, I’ll explain to you that I didn’t always purchase music.  I’m sure you all remember Napster.  This site, as you all know, allowed people to download and share music for free.  Well, as a teenager with little spare cash to actually buy albums, I just went ahead and “stole” hundreds of songs for free.

Truth be told, I still download free music on occasion, but I’ll get back to that in a bit.

For the most part, I am a purchaser of music.  And not just digital copies of music, but those old compact disk things, too.  In fact, I prefer the compact disk.  I buy CDs because I feel they offer the best bang for my buck.  I can listen to it in my car; I can lend it to friends, and I can import into my computer and onto my iPod.

Aside from the personal benefits of purchasing music, I do it to support the artists that make it for me to enjoy.  I’d like to think that if I poured my heart and soul into something, they’d return the favour by spending some money on it.  It’s a sign of respect and gratitude.  If I enjoy an artist’s music, why wouldn’t I purchase an album to support them so they can continue to make more music?

Having said all this, I mentioned that I still download free music on occasion, and this is not something I’m ashamed of.  The offering of “free music downloads” is a relatively new marketing technique first popularly attempted by Radiohead back in 2007 when they self-released their album In Rainbows online for a “pay what you want” price.  Since then, many musicians have adopted this marketing technique under the premise that if you allow people to pay a price of their choosing—even if it is zero dollars—more people will pay something for your album than if you have a higher, set price.  This is what I mean when I say I download free music, as sometimes when offered, I choose not to pay for the music.  At least not right away.  I often find myself coming back to the artist for older albums that aren’t “free”, and have no problem paying the asking price for them.

There are many other examples and variations of this “free music” regime, including iTunes’ free Single of the Week, along with Starbucks offering a free iTunes download each week, as well.  Several artist friendly sites such as Bandcamp.com have emerged, giving artists control over how much they wish to charge their listeners for their music, or if they want to charge them anything at all.

This is all well and good, but it still begs the question of why we should pay for music, especially since some artists are willing to literally give it away.

One blog post I read recently stated that musicians should no longer feel entitled to be compensated for their music.  The argument to support this claim explained that nowadays, one can simply record a whole album on one’s computer avoiding the high costs of producers, recording studios, and mixing and mastering engineers.  One can also promote one’s privately recorded music online, avoiding the cost of a press and publicity team, and the pain of dealing with a record label.

These are perhaps valid arguments, but I feel the blog writer misses the point of compensation for music.  He’s missed the most basic, fundamental problem with the entire “purchasing music” predicament:  are we no longer willing to put any value into the arts?  The arts are what give us identity.  The arts keep us thinking, dreaming and believing.  The arts are tangible expressions of our innermost passions.  If we snuff out that light, what have we done?

Maybe I’m sounding a little too “out there”, but I think my point is clear: if we don’t invest in the arts by way of purchasing music, we will eventually extinguish the option of even listening to it.  There’s only so long that musicians will be able to make quality music for the masses without being compensated for it.

Remember those questions I asked you at the beginning of my essay?  There are typically three popular responses:

One popular response to the question of what are your reasons for not paying for music is:

  • I support my favourite artists by paying to see them in concert

Don’t get me wrong, this is a huge support for artists, and without this, there really wouldn’t be much in the way of live entertainment for any of us; however, the purchase of a concert ticket is not enough alone to pay the recording studio, nor does it cover the cost of mixing or mastering engineers, or the producer.  In order for us to continue to have quality—and I stress the word quality—music at our fingertips, these technicians must continue to make money to bring an artist’s vision to life, and put it onto record.  Musicians make music; most don’t possess these other professional trade skills.  Income received by record sales help provide this “funding” for these professionals.

Another popular response to my question is along the lines of:

  • the artist hardly sees any money from the sale of their music and it all goes straight to the record label execs

While this may be the case to a certain extent, these labels are a large portion of the funding when it comes to the artist’s music videos, album promotions and world tours.  Without a label’s financial backing, a band or artist has to come up with the money to make music videos, promote their albums and tour the countryside on their own.  BUT – they don’t have that money in the first place because society has deemed their music unworthy of 99 cents per song when they can get it free.  Do you see the problem here?

The other popular response is—or used to be:

  • There are only two good songs on the album, they shouldn’t expect me to pay for it”

Thanks to the Apple’s revolutionary iTunes store, as well as sites like Amazon.com, CDBaby.com, and Bandcamp.com, this is no longer a valid retort.  All these sites allow you to purchase an artist’s single for about a dollar per song.  You no longer need to pay for a whole album to get those one, two, three songs you want.  This new format of purchasing has also inspired bands to write and record better albums, as they can no longer rely on one radio single to sell their whole album when people can sample the thing on the internet and realize the rest of it isn’t any good.  It’s a win for the artists and maybe even moreso for the fans.

In fact, I believe one easy solution to this whole mess is music sampling.  There are many sites that allow you to sample music at no cost, but deny you the ability to download the songs for free.  I find that I’m much more inclined to make a purchase when I have an idea of what I’m purchasing, as opposed to only hearing a few songs and taking a shot in the dark with the rest.  If, after sampling, I still only enjoy a couple of tunes, those are the only ones I’ll purchase on iTunes, no harm done.

With all of the options these days for sampling and purchasing music that are both artist- and listener-friendly, it still surprises me how many people still aren’t willing to pay for music.  I know that we all struggle with finances as students, and can understand that money is in short supply for many of us, so paying for something you can get for free doesn’t make a ton of sense; I just hope that if you are saving your dollars right now by not paying for music, once you have your university degree and are rolling in the big money—as I’m certain we all will be—you’ll remember this speech and not hesitate to throw a few dollars at the artists that have spent their own time, money and energy creating music for all of us to enjoy.

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-Dylan

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~ by whet_hopped on July 11, 2012.

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