Wednesday, 4 August 2010

"80,000 people stole my song!"

A few weeks ago, I read a quote from country singer James Otto over on The Boot. He says:
This week I sold 7,500 singles (which is pretty good), but 80,000 people stole it. No wonder so many of my friends in the business are losing their jobs. Kinda scary. Half the [song]writers in Nashville can't get a job anymore because of this. People pay five bucks for a cup of coffee, but not 99 cents for a song?
I commented on that blog at the time that, while I don’t disagree with the spirit of his comments, I do wonder where this figure of 80,000 copies comes from. A lot of the problem with illegal downloading is that it's not trackable and not public. It's not like you go somewhere official and allow the illegal downloading to be counted when you do it. So, where has Otto got this figure from? 299 subscribers have listened to it, so it’s not that. Has he uploaded it to Rapidshare himself and pushed it around the net in order to see the result? Or is he simply making up a figure to boost his argument?

My other problem with Otto’s statement is that the song he’s referring to, his single Groovy Little Summer Song, is only the second single from an album that is not yet released. Personally, I wouldn’t pay a dollar for a song if I were then planning to shell out for the whole album, essentially paying for the same song twice, and, in that scenario, I might well download it illegally to listen to until I obtained my legal copy on the album.

In this case, I haven’t, since I’m not a big fan of Otto’s. However, one album that came out earlier this year was Whitney Duncan’s nearly two years since the first single, and since several of the songs were released as a ‘selections sampler’ on mp3 download. I refused to pay for these songs at the time, and knowing I was always planning to purchase them as part of the album, I enjoyed them illegally. So, now the album’s finally been released, I’ve bought my copy, right?

Actually, no. Because it’s not available on mp3 download in the UK, or on a physical CD that isn’t an overpriced import. In these days of digital sales, there’s no excuse for an artist’s material not to be available everywhere, and, when it’s not, it simply encourages piracy. This is an issue that the music industry desperately needs to sort out, as, when given the choice between paying £21 for a CD they can see their US peers paying $5 for or simply hopping on to a file-sharing site, it’s often not a hard choice. And in this way, record companies, artists and songwriters are losing sales and losing money that should and could have been theirs.

There are far more detailed issues to be looked at regarding piracy and the music industry’s antiquated and ill-advised methods, but I’ll save that for another post.


  1. Hey Sam, I just happened to stumble across your blog via the link you provide over at Country Universe.

    Very interesting post, I wonder how larger scale artists such as Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Lady Antebellum have problems with this issue. (With regards to illegal downloads)

    I would assume that most of the people who illegaly downloaded (as per James Otto's statement) might be pop fans who just happened to like the song and didn't want to shell out the money for a song.

    I don't know how much iTunes songs cost in the UK, but in the US, iTunes has raised the costs of many songs (mostly singles) up to $1.29.. Very few are priced at $0.99. I was lucky to buy Reba's "Strange" & Sara Evans' "Feels Just Like A Love Song" for that price ($0.99).

    Moreover to the point, the only reason I would download songs illegaly (via YouTube) is if the song is not available on CD or iTunes anywhere... (Which is very helpful, especially with LIVE performances). But I do see your point:
    I too do not understand how Otto managed to get that figure, but it's true that in today's media, anything is possible!

    Since the internet has surfaced, music sales have sunk low. I am probably part of the low percentage that still buy CDs (mostly classic CDs I want or new CD releases by my favs--Reba! :D). This is disapointing, but unfortunatly, inevitable.

    Anyways, I enjoyed reading your post. :)

  2. Hey Zack, thanks for commenting. It means a lot to get comments and know that people are reading :).

    On your point about Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, Carrie etc., I'd suspect that they do indeed suffer more from illegal downloading - but the alternative argument is, it matters less to them. I know I would feel less bad about depriving them of the money of a sale than I would for an independent artist. This is one reason I make a point of trying to buy as much country music as possible. I figure if people don't buy it, it'll stop being so readily available.