A View of Illegal Music Downloading and Ripping: The Age of Independents

Recently with the way people talk about music downloading and ripping you'd think it was the devil incarnate trying to strike down all of society.

I used to be an avid "downloader" of music during the days of Napster, WinMX and SoulSeek. It was great for finding new artists and I discovered some of my favorite bands through downloading. Now, I don't download accept from legitimate websites that are promoting the artists and do NOT share my music collection. This is not so much because I thought I wasn't supporting the artists, but because of computer security and legal concerns. At this time I own about 90% (it would be the 100% but I don't have the money right now) of what I originally downloaded in CD form and I have never used iTunes (and probably never will).

I also rip every CD I own in mp3 format as soon as I buy it. I prefer to listen to music on my mp3 player because mine has a very large capacity and it allows me to carry around my entire collection in one place. I can deal with the slight loss of quality that comes with even high bitrate mp3s because by having everything in one place I can listen to a band's albums in order without pause. Some audiophiles will probably disagree, but oh well. I have encountered problems with ripping CDs and have seen every incarnation of "unrippable" CD produced. I rip every one without any problem.

I don't see any legal issues with ripping music because I can just as easily make a tape of a CD to listen to it in a new format. By ripping an album I'm just making a digital tape that I can now listen to in a new format. I think that qualifies as personal use. If I were selling these ripped songs, then I'd be outside personal use. Personally, I wish that the record labels would stop trying to prevent CD ripping. Then again, I haven't found an "unrippable" CD yet so maybe it really doesn't matter to me what they do.

So why do I own 90% of my downloaded music collection In CD form?

I guess I'm what you would call a music collector. I like having more than just a single track from an artist, the liner notes, the album art as it is a complete work like a piece of art. I know it sounds crazy to think of rock and roll albums as art, but albums really create a snapshot of that artist at that time. Even just the title of an album is part of the work. As a collector, that is what I want to have in my collection, not just a bunch of random songs. I have entire albums that I downloaded and still purchased and reripped into mp3s. This way I can listen to the music on my headphones and still have a permanent back up in CD form and the entire art of the album.

When I was downloading music I actually saw the number of albums I purchased increase significantly because I was able to preview the album first. I could listen to an entire album by a band I had never heard of before and an album I would never have purchased if I hadn't heard it first. I think record labels might want me to download music illegally as if I like it and can listen to it first (for a few days, not just a few minutes on the Internet), it's almost a guarantee that I will buy it. For people like me, it seems illegal downloading is actually a powerful promotional tool that would actually increase sales, especially of unknown artists.

Us music collectors are certainly the minority of people who purchase music, but I'd be interested in what percentage of the sales we account for as I've been known to spend $400 in a record store at one time and probably spend more on music each year than food (when I have money to spend).

Oh Well, this issue has been talked to death over and over again.

Personally I'm sick of hearing about how illegal downloads are taking money out of the pocket of millionaire rock stars (people who obviously need more money) and how album sales are slumping. I doubt the songs that are downloaded the most are the songs of independent artists that actually could use the money. Also maybe album sales are slumping because the music thats being promoted is more about marketing than about soul.

For us who are really passionate about music and will support the artist even if we do download their music illegally, its a shame not to have the easy access to new and exciting artists that downloading provided.

Maybe we're seeing the death of the record label conglomerate and the birth of the age of independents in the music industry on the Internet. I'm all for music on the Internet, just don't do away with the album, I need something to collect.

- The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll is a division of Fifth Column Media - www.fifthcolumnmedia.com -