I’m too old for this shit. And they’re doing it wrong.
All this chin scratching and looking at who’s screwing who is all fine and well, and does indeed make for interesting reading, but why is it these articles never seem to ask the people doing the pirating why they’re doing it? It’s not that hard to do. When you do look at the reasons they give, the issue suddenly, and rather dramatically, widens way beyond ‘freetards’ and ‘evil’ record labels.
When I was sixteen, I had a part time job and two passions; skateboarding and music. All of my money went on those two things. All of it. It was the mid 90’s, the music scene was vibrant and exciting, it never rained and Wagon Wheels were fucking massive (easily the size of your face). Life was awesome. Skateboarding has always had a close link with music, and my peers and I lived and breathed both, they were simply all that mattered, as far as I remember there were only two shops in town; the skate shop and the independent music shop. Fast forward sixteen years to the present day and not much has changed for me. Well, I earn a lot more, and I no longer have to pay for the skateboards, but the music scene is still vibrant and exiting (if you know where to look) and I still spend a lot of money on music. Wagon Wheels are smaller (or maybe my face is bigger), but life’s still awesome. But the kids at the skatepark, the little versions of me? Well something’s happened there. They’re skint, they’re stressed and culturally speaking, they’re utterly detached.
That part time job I had at sixteen is no longer held by a teenage skater, it’s held by a twenty-something who has a degree. Where I used to go to two or three gigs a month at a fiver a show, the young ‘uns can only tag along if us older guys pay the £15+ for their ticket (and go through mindboggling hoops to persuade the doorstaff that they really are 18, honest). Where we used to sit at the skatepark talking about music, girls and well, just music and girls really, the kids are worrying about getting shanked on the way home and whether or not getting a C in GCSE Maths means they’ll have to join the army. But the kids do listen to a lot of music, almost all of which they get from torrents. They’re not making a statement by using torrents, they’re not making a stand for freedom of information; they’ve got other shit to worry about. They don’t pirate the odd track here and there, simply put, the torrent sites are where they get music from.
Ok, they’re skint, but on top of that, they don’t care about bands. Scenes, a bit, but not individual bands. Labels only seem to focus on a band for one album, two at a push, before moving onto someone else. Even the indies are guilty of this now. How do they expect kids to develop an attachment to a band if they’re only around for 5minutes? It’s that attachment that will make them spend the little they do have. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been driving a van full of skaters to a park, plugged one of the young ‘uns phones into the stereo, heard something cool, asked them who it is only to be met with the reply; “Dunno, I just downloaded it last night, I’ll facebook you the link later” It’s not that they don’t like the music; they love it, it’s just that the band is bizarrely no longer important, to them it’s simply a cool sounding noise that will be on their phone for a week until it’s replaced by something else. If I try and suggest they’re potentially damaging the artist, they don’t care. There’s nothing mean or callous in their reaction, it just simply doesn’t register as a valid point to them; they weren’t expecting that band to be there next week, so why would they worry? That’s a part of what I mean when I say they’re culturally detached, and rather than rectify this, the ‘culture industry’ seems hell bent on exasperating the issue by being even more flippant with bands than the kids are. If that were possible. And it’s the kids the industry needs to impress, I mean, if you’re 30 and torrenting music, that’s not lost sales, the industry was never going to make any money out of you, but if you’re 16 and doing it? Well, that does mean lost sales because it’s the habits and traits you pick up in your teens that drive your spending when you do eventually have disposable income.
We can sit here all we want and argue the toss over the rights and wrongs of piracy and copyright laws, but unless they find a way to really engage the kids, long term, the industry will remain spectacularly fucked. While I think that’s a great shame, and the labels are partly to blame, the issue is way, way deeper than IP and copyrights.