What if we give it away?

Hot on the heels of Harvey Danger making their album available for free download (which I’ve blogged about a couple of times), Nine Inch Nails have done the same thing. OK, well maybe not “hot on the heels”, since Harvey Danger did it over three years ago, but this is another example of a band (or person actually, since NIN is Trent Reznor) that actually gets it when it comes to downloading music.

A lot of people and bands (Lars Ulrich of Metallica comes screaming to mind here) seem to think that downloading music is the scourge of society, and allows people to essentially pull money from their pockets. What they have to consider is that many of the people downloading their music illegally wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. Would I have gone out and bought a Harvey Danger CD? No, because I’d never heard of the band, but I’m willing to download it and listen for free. If it sucks, I’ve lost nothing. But if I like it, I’m more likely to go back and buy it or some previous album (both of which I did for Harvey Danger), which is money that the band made that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Are there people who will download music instead of buying it? Absolutely. Back in high school, my friends and I would all negotiate who was going to buy the latest album from Kim Mitchell or Van Halen or whoever, and everyone else would give that person a blank tape and he’d tape it for the rest of us. So yes, we were pirating music. But at the time, I was a high school kid and didn’t have much money anyway, so I was unlikely to buy 90% of the albums I taped, meaning that nobody was losing money by me doing this. On the contrary — while I may not have bought Akimbo Alogo at the time, I did listen to it and became a Kim Mitchell fan. Years later I did buy Akimbo Alogo on CD, along with a couple of other Kim Mitchell albums as well as all of the Max Webster albums, so Kim did end up benefitting from my piracy.

Similarly, I’ve been interested in hearing NIN for a while, but since I’d never actually heard any of their music, I was hesitant to just go out and buy something. Downloading the album gives me the chance to hear it and decide if I like it, and so far I do. So perhaps I’ll buy some of their older stuff — once I do that, NIN will profit from my downloading their album. If they never released it for download, I wouldn’t have bought it, and they’d have made nothing from me. Thus far, since I haven’t bought any NIN stuff, they still haven’t made anything from me, but now the potential’s there.

Let me be clear: I may have done it in the past and even tried to justify it above, but I’m not advocating piracy, so chill out, Lars. I do have a handful of albums that I downloaded illegally a couple of years ago (none of which are Metallica, so chill out, Lars), and I feel a little guilty every time I listen to them. But I have bought copies of several of the ones I listen to often (I just bid on a copy of Abbey Road and two Rammstein CDs on eBay), and I’ve also deleted some that I don’t. I haven’t downloaded any music or videos (other than the odd TV show that I missed, none of which feature Metallica, so chill… OK, that joke’s getting old) in a couple of years. I’m really not talking about stealing music, I’m talking more about the bands that choose to make their music available for download, most of which are indie bands like Harvey Danger. But it’s nice to see some big-name bands like NIN doing the same thing.


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