The other day, I found myself chatting with a friend about an album my band is getting ready to release. As this conversation progressed, my friend, also a fellow musician, asked whether or not I planned on selling the cd. At first, I thought, “Well, yes, I’d like to” but after a moment’s contemplation, I found I could not give a confident answer. You see, as much as I’d like to sell the cd, would the cd actually sell? This shifted our conversation into a whole new realm, being that of illegally downloaded music or “free” music.
Now whether you download music for “free” or you don’t does not change the fact that the way we see music has changed over the past decade. Yes, it can obviously be stated that without the internet, illegal downloading would not exist. Yes, if Napster was not created, perhaps illegal downloading would not have manifested as quickly as it has. Yet, here we are in 2011, and I have to tell you, the music industry is definitely different. Even today’s top artists are experiencing a significant drop in album sales. Eminem, whose 2000 album, “The Marshall Mathers LP” went on to sell over 19 million copies worldwide (as of 2005), yet his latest 2010 release, “Recovery”, sold only 5.7 millions copies (a little more than a fourth of that). To elaborate, Eminem’s “Recovery” was the second best selling album of 2010 in the United States, and the “Marshall Mathers LP” was the second best selling album of 2000. So, why such a drop in album sales? Is Eminem getting any worse? Not according to album sales. His ability to remain consistent over the past 10 years as a top selling artist would suggest other factors are at play; the most obvious being that people are not buying as many cds. Studies have shown that total album sales have fallen 20% each year since 2006!
Now some people may argue that, “those artists make so much money anyway, why should it matter?” Well it matters because in fact, the artist is not the only one who profits from the release of an album. Once artists reach a major label, or mainstream pinnacle, a lot more goes into releasing a cd and a lot more people work directly on an artists album to make a living. Let us draw an example: say you are a worker at a “Lay’s” potato chip company, say that half of your consumer population gets your potato chips illegally and for free. Sure, the owner of Lays may not be hurting all too much but chances are, you, as a worker will experience some pay cuts.
I am not trying to ridicule those of you that do not pay for your music. Alternatively, there are artists that don’t care how you get your music, as long as you listen to their album. Another popular view is that artists make most of their money from merchandise and touring. This may be true nowadays but that is only because people do not buy albums as much. So what do you think, should music be free or should people have to pay for music? Do you think it should depend on the particular artists’ status (unsigned, indie label, major label)? Do you think the music industry is taking a turn for the better or worse?