On file sharing - David Lowery's open letter to NPR intern Emily White

The file sharing debate often generates more heat than light, but this open letter from Cracker's David Lowery is worth reading. 

I don't agree with him 100%, but I certainly agree with the essence. Most of the arguments in favor of peer-to-peer music distribution are self-serving nonsense. Was the music industry slow to react to online distribution of music? Do copyright owners continue to get it wrong? Is Apple gouging both consumers and content providers? Is file sharing impossible to stop? Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Deciding on music as a career doesn't entitle you to a living. But if you are a successful musician and there are hundreds of thousands of people hearing and enjoying your music and you get no financial return, there is something very wrong.

Emily White's NPR blog post is here.

Industry veteran / iconoclast Bob Lefsetz weighs in here. My problem with Lefsetz is the disconnect between his pragmatic view (that the world has changed and you'd better change with it) and the ethics of file-sharing. 

Personally, I can't escape the conclusion that someone who admits to having 11,000 songs - while paying for less than 20 CDs - has been caught stealing.

What do you think?

Tags: file sharing

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The point in the article that people seem to have missed is that she says that while she has only bought 15 albums she didn't illegally download most of the 11,000 songs in her library.  But even so, while I totally agree that artists should be compensated for their work, the internet has forever altered the way we do business and the way people consume music.

Bob Leftsetz often sends out an email following his blog posts with comments from his readers.  There were lots of comments on his blog about Lowery's screed, but this exchange (pasted below) was my favorite.  I think this 24 year old kid makes some really good points and it's pretty much what I've been thinking myself.  I particularly like this one:  "the bottom line though, is that getting society to collectively evolve its morality is not a short-term solution for the woes of the music industry..."

It's kind of long, but it's full of interesting thoughts and ideas:

Hi Mr. Lefsetz,

My name is Zach, I'm 24 years old, I work in the New Media department of an independent record label here in LA, and I'm a huge fan of your blog. Normally I would never email someone like this (as a fan/reader), but I thought you might actually be interested in the below, so I figured I would at least forward it along.

To explain: today a co-worker, let's call her Sally (badass middle-aged mom from the mid-west who grew up listening to classic rock) forwarded along two links to everyone in the office. One was the article of a young blogger at NPR talking about how our generation will never pay for music. The other was David Lowery's (some

guitarist) response, politely telling her that by doing so, she?s an asshole. Personally, I couldn?t disagree more with this Lowery guy, and so I had what to say about it.  

Warm Regards,


This is definitely a well-written article, and most assuredly speaks to our generation, but all she's really asking for is Spotify lol. And I guess some AirPlay-enabled devices so she can play Spotify around the house... The future is here already; everyone just needs to catch up. Once the masses are on board though, market pressure and competition will help drive up the price-per-play fees paid out to artist/labels.

I didn't have time to read that whole second article, but that professor is a pseudo-intellectual moron. You don't ask teenagers to take it upon themselves to make the moral decision and buy music that's readily available for free elsewhere. You make the music a marketing tool and use it to get kids to buy products (merchandise) and experiences (concerts) you can't duplicate with the copy/paste feature on your keyboard.

Plus this guy doesn't understand the convenience incentive at all. Say you're a woman and you're married, you don't stop adultery by trying to get your husband to wear blinders when he goes out, or asking him nicely to think about the moral implications of what he'd be doing, or threatening him that if anything happens he'll be in BIG trouble. No, if you want a faithful husband, have sex with him all the time, and whenever he wants. Similarly, if the music industry wants their milkshake to bring all the boys to the yard, they need to have the best milkshakes in town, and a truck that brings it right to your door...


Read the whole article Zach


Fine... lol


He's the founder of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker


Not sure what either of those are...

This figure can't be right that the number of professional musicians has fallen 25% since 2000, or it's at least misleading. Everyone I know and their mother is trying to be a DJ right now...


professional = making a living, as in filing taxes

not "giving it a whirl"

CRACKER "Low" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jywZEjSiCBM


okay fine, good point. the bottom line though, is that getting society to collectively evolve its morality is not a short-term solution for the woes of the music industry...


okay just finished the article, and this guy only goes on to further

prove my point...

"I'm sorry, but what is inconvenient about iTunes and, say, iTunes match (that let?s you stream all your music to all your devices) aside from having to pay?"

As I just said above, the price of admission is what makes it inconvenient. This is not a marketplace where everyone knows exactly which tracks/artists they like, they compiled a list of everything they wanted musically, and now they're on a rampage going through peer-to-peer services checking off items from that list. Most of what's going on in music on the net is music discovery. Most of the time, when someone downloads a track illegally, it's because they've never heard it before. So they download it illegally because it's the most convenient way to check it out (price is a factor of convenience), and then if they like it, what are they going to delete the song and then go buy the exact same thing for $1?

And finally, in response to your last email... yes you're right: labels aren't evil and the only ones bearing the burden of technological advances. But, they whine about the loss of a monopolistic business model that left most artists without an opportunity for people to hear their art, and most consumers without a proper medium to find all the music they might like (physical retail, i.e. stores can only carry a certain number of CDs/LPs + lack of information/connectivity). It's the labels? responsibility to figure out how to make their artists' money, not the people's. They're the ones with the capital to the change the landscape of the infrastructure. They could come up with their own streaming service that's better than Spotify (which is super easy to do because Spotify isn't that great) and pay their artists' fairly. But they don't. They'd rather complain about how you're not doing your job as a moral citizen, and how Napster/Kazaa/Limewire ruined it for everyone. This is business, not art. If you want people's money, figure out a way to get people to give it to you. If you don't even attempt to do that, don't complain. Labels are the hippies of the 21st century: they don?t like what?s going on and they don?t know how to fix it, but it sucks, it?s your fault and you need to make it right, so they?re not even going to try.


Hey Sally,

The main point is that, for better or worse, we grew up in a generation defined by "try before you buy". You get people in, you get them hooked, and then you present them with a bunch of ancillary services they can pay for if they want to (tickets, .wav files, vinyl pressings and deluxe D2C packages, merch, etc.). In music, the audience has become the new 'man'. "You want me to invest in your career as a musician? Well so do literally a 100,000 other people; convince me why you're any different from the masses." That's how people think these days, and they're right to do so because there are 100,000 other bands I can check out instead of yours (the hypothetical 'you'), and they're giving away their music for free hoping I want to become a fan and not just get duped into buying one album. It was initially an evolution of the marketplace (free streaming), not an evolution of consumer mentality. A way to stand out from the masses that's now become the standard, and I guess against some artists' wills (I thought you as an artist had allow your music to be put up on Spotify?) it's become a sort of forced standard. For the artists stuck in the past who only want their music sold as CDs for $15 each, yeah it sucks, but you gotta get with the times. That'd be like if solar power took over and independent gas stations started complaining that they can't still sell gas for $4/gallon. At some point you have to just get with it. And again, once everyone's on board, the streaming market will become much more regulated as it more deeply affects its constituents.

Think about Apple. When smart phones came along, they didn't complain about the drop in iPod sales. They made their own smart phone, they added an iPod to it, and they stopped making a huge percentage of the iPods they used to manufacture. Moreover, they created an app market, and have made billions from that. Then they licensed out the technology to connect with the iPhone/iPad (AirPlay) wirelessly and made money from that. They also are getting money from iPhone accessories that were never made/needed for iPods. You don't tell consumers to adapt to (and/or accept) the products that are currently available, you tell businesses (selling music-related content is a business regardless of the artistic process behind it) to adapt to the marketplace and the ever-changing demands of its consumers. And if they don't, you say "Well, good luck staying in business."

You also have to look at it from the perspective that getting fans to spend money on your products (at least as an independent act these days) is about them supporting you, the artist. If you can't support yourself off your fans then you're either selling the wrong products (or not enough of them), or people just don't want to support you, in which case you probably shouldn't be a career musician. And yes we'll lose some great art if we don't support musicians, but it's not the private sector's job to support "art for art's sake". If collectively as a society we all want to give an extra five cents in taxes and use that money to help nurture great (yet unpopular) art via grants and

foundations, I'm down! But don't put that on Spotify, or on me the consumer. Don't make me spend $10 on an album that I don't even know I want, just so you (in this case, the label) have enough breathing room to take a risk and sign some stupid indie rock band."

First, for the sticking it to the musicians: That's one perspective,

but there is another. The other is that fans never 'supported' musicians they liked by buying their albums. It was always about supply and demand. Record stores had a product that everyone wanted and no one could get anywhere else, so they went and bought the album. They got home and listened to it for the first time, and maybe they liked it, maybe they didn't, but they were paying for access to content. They used to pay record stores, because they had the exclusive access. But now with the Internet, there's no more exclusivity. Access is everywhere, and we now pay the people who give us the best, most convenient and cheapest access to that same content. That's all it's about, and that's all it's ever been about. When Dark Side of the Moon came out, did you buy it thinking "Ooo, Pink Floyd, I really want these guys to succeed and keep making music, so I'm going to buy this album!" Probably not. Most likely, you just wanted to hear it, so you went to a store and bought it. Now you

don't have to...

Second: as for asking fans to re-examine this, to question where their money's going and who's getting it, is a great idea. Teleportation, is also a great idea. But with rises gas costs, no one's asking the public to demand scientists work on teleportation, and not buy cars from companies who aren't investing in this technology. No, instead car companies are building hybrids. They're making cars more fuel efficient, and long term they're spending some of their money on R&D for fuel cell/solar/biofuels/etc. (short term/next step solutions). As I've said before, changing the hearts and minds of society isn't a business strategy; it's the hope of a great philosopher. And I applaud this guy for bringing it up. I write about this all the time actually, how we need to take the initiative and evolve as conscientious beings and not just wait on the government to set things straight. But, it doesn't change the fact that this guy's talking out of left field and his argument has nothing to do with practical alternatives for how to solve the woes of the recorded music business.

One last thing: I think he said something along the lines that professional musicians make on average about $35K a year. What's wrong with that? Who ever said musicians need to be rich and famous? In fact, isn't getting rich and famous what makes artists lose that spark - the one born from struggle and pain and loss and real life issues - which allows them to make great art? You think people would want to hear Biggie still rapping about growing up in the streets and selling crack if he were alive today? No chance. Wealth makes most artists irrelevant, because a huge part of great art is the ability to share a common emotion with its audience. If I write a song about how I'm rich and everyone wants to be my friend, but you can never find good housekeepers and designer clothing just isn't cool anymore, how many people are going to relate to that? Personally, I'd rather have thousands and thousands of people making great art and earning a modest living, than the 40 "Top 40" acts all getting the money "they deserve." You (the artist) play guitar, you write down variations on chord progressions that thousands of people before you have already put out there, you put vague (aka "deep" and "thought provoking") words on top of it all, and you get paid. Why don't you go cure cancer, then maybe I'll help you fight for your fair share. Plus, maybe if being an artist didn?t mean getting rich and famous anymore, people would actually make music because they had something to say, and it might actually be good for a change.

With Spotify, rdio and other online streaming  sites,  purchasing music, ownership of music and interest in liner notes and cover art appears to be of interest mainly to an aging population of music lovers and vinyl buying hipsters.  

I recently bought (downloaded) Alejandro Escovedo's new disc "Big Station". Two options: one with liner notes one without? WTF. Who doesn't want to read the liner notes?

PS-Yes, Chuck Prophet co-wrote all the songs.

Quoting Zach: "Who ever said musicians need to be rich and famous? In fact, isn't getting rich and famous what makes artists lose that spark - the one born from struggle and pain and loss and real life issues - which allows them to make great art?" 

Zach's tongue may well be in cheek, but Lefsetz (quoting Greg Allman) has his own version of the same bullshit artist-starving-in-a-garret argument. 

Gee, so you're doing artists a favour if you steal from them, because they will make better art? Please!

The Beatles were seriously rich and seriously famous before they made Rubber Soul and Revolver. The Stones cut most of Exile on Main Street as tax exiles in France. Bruce wasn't down to his last dollar when he made The Seeger Sessions. 

But it's not the megastars who are hurt. It's the cult heroes who are known around the world but receive a  fraction of what they are due from music distribution.



Agreed talented song writers of many genres being pushed out of music and yet we have  the SIMON  COWELL industry in it's pomp!

"The point in the article that people seem to have missed is that she says that while she has only bought 15 albums she didn't illegally download most of the 11,000 songs in her library."

I just want to respond to this one point... What Kyla's argument misses (and others I have seen using this rationalization) is that even if Emily was not the one downloading illegally, she still owned illegal copies and, more important, had not compensated anyone, whether legal or not.  As a DJ, it is not fair use to burn CDs for your personal collection.  Neither is it fair use to burn CDs you have bought indiscriminately, which is undoubtedly the origin of the rest of her collection, if they had ever been purchased at all.  That she is the recipient and not the one downloading is irrelevant.  The latter would be hard to prosecute, but the concern really is a moral one, not a question of legality.

 I live on a poverty income (by choice to some degree), and as a result my music colection is small.  I live within that.  What surprises me most is the sense of entitlement.

my neighbor recently borrowed my wheelbarrow...he didn't compensate anyone...Home Depot missed out on a sale...where's the outcry?

I hope you're kidding. But I guess you're not.

What we're talking about here is you making a 1000 copies of your Home Depot wheelbarrow and giving them away to your neighbors.

I'm not kidding...and keep the perspective: a wheelbarrow is worth a lot more than a song...I have also loaned my table saw...we've all borrowed friends vehicles...Sears doesn't file lawsuits to stop the loaning of tools, which, of course, costs them millions of dollars in sales...Hertz doesn't sue...I don't know the source of all the CDs that Sally was copying, but I feel that when I buy a CD, that makes it mine, just like the table saw...I can do anything I want with it, which includes copying it for a friend...or a friend's friend...I don't expect to get paid for that anymore than I expect to get paid every time someone copies a song I have uploaded to youtube...here in Oregon, you can't pump your own gas...when you cut through all the bs "safety" explanations, the real issue is jobs...so where does that stop?...I can't cut my own lawn, I can't make my own breakfast, I can't record my own assorted songs tapes?...I have thousands of records and CDs that I bought one time and listen to for free ever after...it's the way of the world I grew up in...my grandparents might make the case that doing so was like buying a concert ticket one time and then sneaking into all the subsequent shows for free

I raised the same argument earlier in the thread and it didn't go too far with the people here. In theory, I believe you're correct in your argument. In practice, buying a cd and loaning it to...let's say a couple dozen friends....versus putting it up on Rapidshare for thousands of people to download, is not exactly the same thing.

It's really a case where the technology has eclipsed the spirit of the law and morality. And it's why we haven't yet come up with practical solutions yet. 

I think that's because we're hung up on the concept of the music as a physical or virtual possession.  In fact what we're talking about here is the utility of the item which we can define as a 24/7 utilisation ie:  the wheelbarrow or the physical CD can be used only once in each time period.

Music - and films etc - can of course be used once physically and shared with many people - eg radio, discos etc - which is why there are public performance restrictions which can be got around with a licence purchased from or on behalf of the rights owner.

In business software there's been a long debate about how many licences a business needs for a number of users - each person who uses the software? or only the maximum number of simultaneous users?  And is that globally or by country or other division?  Software tends to fall according to the clout of the provider - Microsoft just tells everyone to sod off.  Software piracy (ie just copying it) tends to get stamped on and the fines can be pretty steep.

Entertainment is much more fragmented. Also the individual uploader could be sharing with unlimited numbers.  Presumably they wouldn't be amenable to buying a licence to upload it which provided compensation to the rights owner.

 Incidentally it's illegal (currently) in the UK to rip a CD you own to your own ipod.  The key is the morality - the rippers claim they're promoting the artist's music.  However, they're doing this without the artist's consent which puts them in the same bracket - IMO - as those bogus directories who put you in and then bill you for it; the differnce being you can tell them to sod off but the artist can't.

The morality has been solved BTW by archive.org and similar sites where free music is available but if the artist says No I don't want to do that they take it down.

Absolutely fascinating that it's illegal to rip your CD to your iPod. Do they use a software device to block it or is it based on a trust system? 

Just one of those things where the law's behind the game - like shagging the Princess of Wales is a capital offence; or driving your sheep through town on a Sunday.  They were going to make it legal as part of one of the anti-piracy laws but no-one can agree on the rest of it.  Equally it's illegal in the UK to burn genetically modified crops but juries kept letting people off and the Crown Prosecutors use a >50% chance of conviction as a yardstick for prosecution.  



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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.