Why pay for music?

Now I’m going to try and stop this turning into a debate about p2p filesharing and that kind of thing. Suffice to say that on that matter I think most people seem to be accepting that a sensible compromise (like this one) is needed, which can protect the creators without criminalising their fans.

What I really wanted to talk about today was the effect this (and the internet in general) has had on music distribution, and how much music we actually pay for. I’m just about old enough to remember the good old days when getting hold of good music was far more basic. If a particular band or artist was recommended to you, then your options were:

1) Find out what little you could about this band through magazines, tv, radio, and talking to friends.


2) Buy the album.

Even without delving into the world of illegal downloads, the internet has made it so much easier for us to hear music before we buy it, through official band websites, myspace pages, and copyright-gnawing youtube uploads. The main effect this has had upon my music buying habits isn’t that I buy significantly less music – but that the quality of the music I do buy has increased significantly.

But now the hear-before-you-buy development has reached it’s logical conclusion. When Owen Pallett‘s album Heartland was released earlier this year it was also made available for free online steaming, and you can hear it bellow in its entirety.

[*EDIT* About 2 months after writing this post (and bout 6 months after the album release) the number of songs available to stream from soundcloud was cut back (as you can see above)]

Obviously Domino Records felt that this seemingly mad giveaway was a good way to promote the CD. Uploading the entire album to soundcloud means that anyone can embed any or all of the song wherever they want (as I did here) and can return to listen to it was much as they want – and all completely free of charge.

I really liked the album and found myself going back to listen repeatedly and this is the point at which I found myself faced with the question: Why pay for music? Well, I must admit that I do still quite likes having a physical CD and so I decided to show my support for this artist and proved that Domino’s marketing strategy obviously can work. (What can I say – I’m the kind of person who actually gave a few quid to ‘buy’ In Rainbows too…)

When Owen Pallett was touring the UK a few months ago I went to see him live too (at a concert where the tickets were pretty cheap (if slightly more than the price of the album)). So I do feel like I’ve done well in showing my support for this artist.

But a marketing strategy based on the good will of your fans hardly seems to be sound financial planning. And anyway, more recently I’ve been listening to Owen Pallett’s earlier work on spotify (here) and find myself once again wondering if there’s any point in me actually buying a physical CD when I can listen online for free? And as someone who hopes to make a living through music, its quite a significant question really.


About jackwestmore

Jack Westmore writes music for film, television and media, and is currently based in Cardiff in the UK.
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One Response to Why pay for music?

  1. Russ says:

    I think at this point it’s more about the concert tickets and merchandising. With the proliferation of music piracy, it’s better for artists to accept a loss someplace in hopes of making it up (plus some) elsewhere.

    Devin Townsend made this point, which kind of surprised me; he said he’d rather someone who never would have bought one of his albums download one, decide they liked him, and then go see him in concert and buy a t-shirt. From that, he would have made more $$ than if they had simply bought the CD (I tried to find his exact quote, it was on the metalsucks.net site when he “hosted” it for a day, but that post seems to be no longer there).

    And one caveat – over here in the States, there’s no Spotify (yet) so if we want to listen online without buying, then it’s MySpace or illegally downloading for us :-)

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