This story (Read part 1) may sound far fetched, but it is an illustration of the epidemic facing the music business, the wide spread practice of illegal downloading. Just like the Smithfield family in the story, songwriters and independent musicians rely on the few cents they make from selling their recorded music as downloads online. With the internet, it is easier than ever to distribute music to an international audience, but with the benefits of worldwide distribution come the risk of losing all your income to pirates, because it is just as easy to get the same material for free (maybe easier) than it is to pay for it.
Why should consumers be expected to pay their hard earned money on music when everyone is getting it for free?
Here’s why. Let’s say you buy a download for $0.99 on iTunes. iTunes keeps $0.29 to pay the credit card company & themselves leaving $0.70 that is paid to the copyright owner. If you are just the songwriter, guess how much of that $0.70 goes to you? Remember, the songwriter is the creator of the underlying composition, the reason the song is being sung, recorded & released in the first place. The songwriter gets a whopping $0.091 per copy sold. Less than ten cents.
If you are a professional songwriter who is signed to a publishing deal, you can expect even less money because that $0.091 gets split up 50/50 between you and your publisher. Regardless of how many people wrote the song, the amount allotted for the songwriter/publisher share is still $0.091 per copy, so rap songs with 6 writers only get $0.015 apiece (half of that if they are signed to a publishing deal).
I think the reason that most consumers don’t have a problem “stealing” (downloading from sites who don’t charge you) music is because getting music from major label artists for free makes one feel a little bit like Robin Hood. Yeah, he was a thief, but he stole from the rich to give to the poor. Everyone sees the big stars riding around in Bentleys & living in mansions & thinks, “I don’t have a Bentley or a mansion! That person doesn’t need my $0.99 as much as I do. I’ll get the song for free & no one will be hurt.”
What consumers don’t see is the songwriter & his family, counting every $0.091 that comes their way, driving a Hyundai & grocery shopping on double coupon day. Those families are the backbone of the music industry, the under appreciated heart and soul of a dying business. Without them, the music would cease. There would be no “Wind Beneath My Wings” or “16th Avenue” inspiring us to love more freely, to appreciate the little things in life, and to transcend our daily drudgery into the beauty of a well crafted song.
The common misconception among music lovers is that the artist (the guy driving the Bentley) writes all the songs he sings himself. This is not the case. There are countless families who eek out a modest sustenance gathering the crumbs that fall from the plate of these mega stars. Not just the songwriters, but the roadies, the studio engineers, the musicians, the accountants, the business managers, personal managers, on air personalities, make up & wardrobe designers, and the list goes on & on.
Next time you get online searching for that song you can’t get out of your head, know one thing: somebody is counting on that $0.99. It won’t be missed by you in your day to day life, but someone somewhere is counting on that $0.99 turning into hundreds & thousands of dollars that can be used to support their family.
So, what happened to the Smithfields and their gum balls? The choice is up to you, just like the fate of the music industry. Isn’t something that brings you so much joy worth paying a little money for to support the guys and gals who create it? Yeah, the big bad music industry made a fool of itself punishing kids for illegal downloading, but just like the Smithfields, they were at the end of their ropes. If you saw your livelihood threatened by thieves, no matter how well intentioned, you would probably get angry too. Maybe even a little irrational.
Do a songwriter a favor, pay for your music. You’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that you are supporting families just like yours. There’s no need to wait for “the man” or big industry to figure out what to do about the problem of illegal downloading. The cure is obvious – let your friends know what is at stake, the future of real people, families just like yours. Please don’t let the music die or become subsidized by corporate sponsorship. Help the little guy, the indie musician & the songwriter keep his dream alive. Pay for your music & share the word, not the tunes.
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