One of the most frustrating and disheartening parts of releasing music in today's digital music marketplace is when perfect strangers take it upon themselves to freely give away the music that we have worked so hard on, and paid so much to create, thus discouraging the few remaining buyers from actually properly purchasing our work. After releasing our first record in 2007, one day I set up a Google alert so that any time a website was found with "Worldwide Groove Corporation" or "Chillodesiac" in the page contents, we would get an email with a link. Little did I know that within the next week I would get dozens of email alerts directing me to blogs where people [who make a habit of doing this regularly] had uploaded our album artwork and all of the music into downloadable files so people could just help themselves to our work without even connecting with or compensating us.
Let me make it clear, we worked our butts off on that record. It took years of nights and weekends, while we kept up with our money work and raised our baby boy. We paid all expenses out of pocket, and we managed all of the distribution ourselves without any funding from a record label. We paid all of the guest musicians, we paid for the photo shoot, we paid for graphic design and CD duplication, we paid for web hosting, we paid for mastering, and we paid for all of the gear we used to create the music. The venture cost us $10,000 out of pocket at least.
It's no secret that streaming has taken over the market place and that no one buys CDs or downloads like they used to. It's no secret that the mentality of so many music consumers is that music should be free. It's no secret that streaming hardly pays the songwriters or artists anything. See my previous blog post about that.
It's also no secret that the internet is chocked full of loud mouthed idiots who frequently subject the public to their ignorance via unsolicited opinions and comments on blog posts and videos. I've been told "just because you write a song doesn't mean you OWN it" [tell George Lucas he doesn't own Star Wars] and "just sell t-shirts" and "just release more music" and "you don't want to deprive someone of it just because they can't afford your music do you?" To that last question, I responded by saying that if someone OWNS A COMPUTER to be able to download my music illegally, they can certainly afford the 99 cents for the song... can't afford it my ass, this is music not life saving medicine.
The fact is, anyone who creates content or intellectual property should have the right to control its distribution. I understand that people need to stream music before they buy it. I understand that, and I'm totally fine with it, but I want to control when, where, and how my music is streamable. I understand that giving free downloads is often a fantastic way to gain fans and promote music. I'm totally fine with that, but I want to control when, where, and how my music is available for free downloads. And I want to have the opportunity to connect with the people who download my music for free.
So, when some random dude in Russia decides to rip off our hard work and offer it as a free download on his blog, what is he gaining? [Actually SOME Russian websites even SELL our music and don't pay us, which is even more violating.] Back when I first became aware of this rampant habit, I encountered dozens of bloggers who did this with our Chillodesiac Lounge album. By the time I found it, and clicked through to where the file was hosted [sites like rapid share etc.] I would see the download count. It was hardly ever less than 5,000 times and quite often between 25,000 and 50,000 times our entire album had been illegally downloaded for free. So... let's say conservatively that it averaged out to 10,000 illegal downloads per instance. And let's say I found 25 of these blogs. [I'm sure this is a very low estimate.] That would mean that there were a quarter of a million times people had downloaded our whole entire album for free without any connection or compensation to us. I realize that certainly not ALL of those people would have actually paid for our music if it wasn't available for free. So, let's just say only 1% of them would have bought our album after listening via streaming on one of our players [because this was before Spotify or Pandora even existed]. So that would be about 2,500 purchases of our album. At $10 per purchase, that's $25,000 of potential revenue we didn't generate. That's a big deal for independent musicians.
"When they download your first album for free, they'll be more likely to buy your next album" some say. So now I have to slave over another entire album on the small chance that person would even find it and not actually download it for free again? In this circumstance, we cannot even be sure the mp3s were tagged properly with our band name. And even so, it does not help us stay in business to have a million fans who never pay a penny for our music. How are we supposed to keep making our own music?? We have bills to pay and mouths to feed.
We released Standard Chill just about a month ago, and I've already found 2 bloggers who have offered it for free download on their sites. I will say that in the last several years, apparently things have improved slightly in terms of the protocol of how to report it. Back with our first record, we had to physically print out a letter on our business letter head, include all of the legal proof of our ownership and the URLs of the offending sites and then FAX that letter to the file hosting company. Each and every time. That was IF it was a U.S. or European owned site. The Asian and Russian sites didn't even offer any way of reporting copyright infringement. They didn't care. At least now, it's getting a little less convoluted.
I'm going to show an example of what one blogger did.
This image cuts it off, but he actually had the files hosted at three separate file sharing sites. One is uploaded.net, one is rapidgator.net, and the other was a Chinese site. That meant I had to track down the protocol on each site. Not surprisingly, the first two were a bit easier to file a complaint, however I still had to navigate through the site to find out what to do, and I still haven't heard back about them removing the content. The third site, the Chinese one requires this...
Now... who are they really working for here? People can upload all they want and it's up to the world to go through this hassle to prove that person didn't have the right to do that. Imagine how infrequently copyright violation would happen if they made it this hard for the losers uploading other people's content to prove they DO have the right before they could upload it. The burden should not be on the copyright holders to do so much footwork. This is a bad system.
In the words of that chick on the dentist commercial, "I ain't got time fuh dat." Carry on.