PL sent along a link to an interview with Steve Albini–well, “interview”…an “ask me anything between 3 and 6 pm” thing, and here’s one of the bits:
I reject the term “piracy.” It’s people listening to music and sharing it with other people, and it’s good for musicians because it widens the audience for music. The record industry doesn’t like trading music because they see it as lost sales, but that’s nonsense. Sales have declined because physical discs are no longer the distribution medium for mass-appeal pop music, and expecting people to treat files as physical objects to be inventoried and bought individually is absurd.
The downtrend in sales has hurt the recording business, obviously, but not us specifically because we never relied on the mainstream record industry for our clientele. Bands are always going to want to record themselves, and there will always be a market among serious music fans for well-made record albums. I’ll point to the success of the Chicago label Numero Group as an example.
There won’t ever be a mass-market record industry again, and that’s fine with me because that industry didn’t operate for the benefit of the musicians or the audience, the only classes of people I care about.
Free distribution of music has created a huge growth in the audience for live music performance, where most bands spend most of their time and energy anyway. Ticket prices have risen to the point that even club-level touring bands can earn a middle-class income if they keep their shit together, and every band now has access to a world-wide audience at no cost of acquisition. That’s fantastic.
Additionally, places poorly-served by the old-school record business (small or isolate towns, third-world and non-english-speaking countries) now have access to everything instead of a small sampling of music controlled by a hidebound local industry. When my band toured Eastern Europe a couple of years ago we had full houses despite having sold literally no records in most of those countries. Thank you internets.
Here’s my alternative opinion: Of course, it is a bit of a shell game to say that digital piracy hasn’t hurt the music industry–yes, there are sales lost to people who now have easier and faster access to free versions of the same music. But the “benefits” of internet distribution are hard to measure, however confident Albini seems to be about them. There’s simply no way of establishing the size of the potential audience for some music that doesn’t exist for them. And there’s certainly no way of knowing if the distribution of music via the internet helped them to actualize their intrinsic interest in said music, or if it just produces the kind of consumers that Albini seems to disdain–people who like stuff that lots of other people around them like.
And this is my main complaint about arguments like this: the music industry manifestly DOES operate for the benefit of both musicians and audience members. In fact, a HUGE audience. Holding them in contempt and stripping them of the mantle of being audience members simply because they like pop music is an idiotic way to frame a pro-music argument.