When you speak of poor artists such as Loretta Lynn from Butcher Holler sharing their gifts with the world, you assume that only the wealthy would be able to survive this supposed strain that file sharing puts on their income. In past decades this would be true, but we now live in a new world. Loretta Lynn, were she intelligent and attempting to make a name for herself in this day and age, would use the Internet to her advantage. She would likely post her own songs online without the help of a label, instantly sharing them with thousands of potential fans. They would spread across the world in the blink of an eye, garnering a following here in America, in Europe, and perhaps even Japan where country music has found a comfortable following. By the time a record label decided to give her a contract, she would already have a following of hundreds or thousands of fans, and the need for promotion of records and tours would not be quite so high. Then with royalties from the albums that would be sold, as well as what are played in clubs and on the radio, plus a generous amount from live performances; Loretta Lynn would no longer be poor, and it would in part be thanks to file sharing.
The exposure for artists is the greatest boon of music piracy, and yet no one has bothered to mention or talk about the issue. With so many students unable to afford albums, turning to KaZaa and other programs helps them maintain a healthy level of knowledge about current music and music trends. File sharing is exactly that – sharing. When a user finds a song they like in the library of another user, they may see a list of bands that they have never heard, but can instantly download and sample. The result is that more people find new music and upcoming artists through piracy than they ever would by listening to the radio, going to shows, or viewing the promotions of record companies.
Some see the Internet and free file sharing as the greatest thing for undiscovered artists. Take for example AudioGalaxy (http://www.audiogalaxy.com). This site is dedicated to helping musicians find exposure online, by hosting MP3s of their music. The musicians can post music, images, information, and even their own webpage…all for free on AudioGalaxy’s servers. This kind of exposure any undiscovered artist would crave: the chance to reach a hugely wide audience and give them a taste of their work, free for both themselves and their listeners. Unfortunately it is the artists who are already successfully established, pulling in millions of dollars per year, that have spoken out the loudest against illegal downloading. One such band is Metallica, who all but lead a holy war against the shareware Napster, and in the process lost many fans who suddenly found their heroes appear to be among the greediest of P2P detractors. Why would a group who pulls in millions of dollars per year and one of the highest royalty rates in the business ($4 per album sold), be worried about a few dollars less? Certainly, as Elvis’s gold-plated piano you viewed at the Country Music Hall of Fame proves, these artists aren’t lacking any amount of extraneous wealth. Metallica’s attitude was disheartening for those who believe sharing music can be beneficial to artists.
What critics don’t notice or understand is that when “pirates” share music, they foster a following for musicians and help establish their popularity. As I have said, many fans will spend money on live shows to support their favorite artists. Especially for independent music where live shows are as much a part of the experience as listening to an album, their fans in many cases would not fill the room/arena/stadium had they not heard the artist online first. Some musicians and labels are finally catching on to this idea, hosting streaming versions of all of the songs on an album so that fans can hear it before buying it, rather than just the one or two singles that are made popular. Yet file sharing programs are still a standard, so that they remains many listeners’ first choice when finding out about a new artist.
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