Mp3 sharing is not a crime

By Todd Hanaburgh, Collegian columnist and T. James Hanaburgh

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The total manageability of mp3s has made them the new gods of music transfer and storage. Together, with the iPod and similar devices, the average person can now carry an entire music library in his back pocket. At home, I have over 26GB of mp3s. I used to have nearly one thousand CDs, but storing and managing them became a major frustration. I do not engage in file sharing as a general rule, not because I believe it’s wrong, but mainly for the security and integrity of my PC, which also houses tons of other valuable info.

Most of the mp3s that are available for download or swapping are of questionable quality. A listener is often trying to get an idea of what a particular group or genre is all about before going out to buy an actual album. Who actually wants the entire Toto album that includes the cheesy rock classic “Hold the Line?” Where will the average person find the theme song to “Three’s Company” or “Fraggle Rock” if not on some random mp3 swapping website?

I am a songwriter and self-proclaimed “audiophile,” so I collect and record information that I convert into mp3s for storage. But as a musician, I don’t see why there is such a fuss about mp3 swapping. My personal perspective and I know many artists (musical and otherwise) share it, is that we just want to produce our art and live unfettered by the impediments of the day-job.

We often hear figures and gigantic numbers from the record industry, such as so-and-so got $3.2 million to record this record and so forth, but what the average person doesn’t realize is that the money is a loan from the record label to the artist. The artist then uses the money from sales of that album to repay the loan to the record label and in the end, only sees about five to seven cents per song on each album sold.

The long and the short of it is that unless you are Britney Spears or J-Lo, mp3 swapping should not seriously impact the income of a recording artist. But there are incredibly vocal groups out there protesting it anyway. All of these groups have another interest involved. At first I wondered why Metallica, of all the groups on Earth, would care about Napster and “illegal” file swapping, but as months and years went by, it became obvious to me.

The guys in Metallica have been at it since 1979 and were releasing underground metal for 15 years before they tasted fortune with the self-titled “black album” in 1991. Their major releases never made much money in sales, but there was a serious return on that 1991 release. Previously, their sound was cutting edge and for about 10 years, they were known as the fastest metal band ever. Their style had substance up until then, but since their subsequent releases “Load” and “Reload,” they’ve obviously been making artistic sacrifices to God Money.

Here’s how the plan works: Metallica realizes they misspent much of their success and money during their youth. They change their style to retain contemporary marketability, which naturally brings in new fans that scoop up their numerous releases, past and present. So the band gets a boost in all of their sales, from “Kill ‘Em All” to “St. Anger” or whatever the newest piece is.

Alienated fans of yesteryear get to see them on tour where the band still plays time-honored favorites. From a capitalist perspective, it’s very smart, but it all hinges on the idea that people continue to buy CDs. So naturally, when file swapping comes under the microscope, bands with strategies like Metallica’s come out in opposition.

Recording artists should look at mp3 swapping as a cost-free promotional device. Most bands make their money on tour supporting an album from ticket sales and merchandising anyway. For example, The Grateful Dead and Phish are both bands that toured endlessly and made a good living on tickets and merchandise, but never had significant record sales or Top 40 hits.

So whom are you really hurting when you download or swap mp3s? Only the record company executives and/or dollar-grabbing gluttons preying on young minds that don’t yet know what artistic integrity is. I say download and swap mp3s ’til your memory banks are full.

The time will soon arise when the record industry and artists come to conflict over control of material and the battleground will be the Internet. Mp3s and similar vehicles for transfer and promotion are now the key to the industry. The powers that be won’t let them go uncontrolled.

T. James Hanaburgh was a Collegian columnist. Check out his blog at http://whatsparksaremadeof.blogspot.com/.