Actually There is Some Free
Last week the record companies announced that they had
been successful in staving off those awful P2P sites, the
bastard sons of the original Napster, where people go get
music for free. This announcement was similar in tone and
based in the same kind of reality as the Bush administration’s
constant mantra that real progress was being made in “liberating”
As you must be aware, the record companies’ big idea was to
“drive” consumers, like cows in the slaughter-yard, to “legitimate”
online music stores, of which there are many: There’s iTunes,
and then there are a couple dozen others that don’t really
matter. The way they decided to do this was to selectively
sue people who their investigators found are using the free
P2P services, and then publicize the lawsuits through press
releases and advertising campaigns. In particular, college
students are targeted, and a typical wave of lawsuits (the
suits usually come in groups of several hundred at once) involves
suing a couple dozen kids at a couple dozen colleges, and
then trying to get all the public-relations juice possible
from local and national press outlets.
I’ve represented a number of these kids, and when I tell them
that they aren’t really being sued for damages, they seem
perplexed. “If the record companies were really after damages,”
I tell them, “they sure as hell wouldn’t be suing college
kids!” The reality is that the record companies are suing
kids so they can tell people they’re suing kids. And
last I checked, they’d sued about 20,000 of ’em.
Despite all of the grief, the publicity, the court decisions,
and despite their claims of victory, the record companies
don’t seem to have accomplished much except to make people
hate the record companies more than they already did. Which
is quite an accomplishment, when you think about it. While
“legitimate” online sales of music have grown appreciably,
this probably has more to do with people trending away from
compact discs, the way they did from vinyl 20 years ago. The
P2P sites are still up and cranking. P2P downloads still outnumber
“legitimate” downloads by double-digit multiples. You can
still find most anything on the P2P networks if you’re patient
and clever, and as long as people participate in them, the
P2P networks are indestructible.
But let’s say you’re, well, a little averse to being sued
by the record companies, even though the chances of that are
miniscule. Maybe you know somebody who got sued, maybe you
don’t like risk, even a dinky little risk. Maybe—and this
is not an insignificant maybe—you have the righteous belief
that music should generally be paid for, and that paying for
music is right and fair, because at least some of the money
will wind up in the pockets of musicians and songwriters.
This is not an irrational or counter-revolutionary belief,
and there is evidence that occasionally this actually does
happen. Hypothetically speaking.
But you’re not keen on spending a ton of dough on music, either.
And you’re really not keen on buying music with all kinds
of digital restrictions: like you can only make x number
of copies from your download; like you can only listen on
your computer; like you can/can’t put them on your iPod/MP3
player; or like when you stop paying your subscription fee,
your music library disappears.
Harken! There is legitimate music out there for free. It may
not be exactly what you think you’re looking for; it might
be a lot better. And most of it you can get as straight MP3s,
no strings attached.
Many, if not most, smaller independent labels are giving away
at least one song from their current albums. Surf a little
bit and you’ll find them. Last week, I stumbled on the Web
site for the venerable classical-jazz-blues label Telarc (Telarc.com).
Holy Moly! There’s a download page there to die for, and many
of the MP3s are at the near-CD quality 320 bps bit rate. Many
indie bands, as well, post songs for download on their Web
sites, their MySpace.com sites, or their PureVolume.com sites.
Look around and you’ll find them.
Bigozine2.com is a strange little Web zine out of Singapore,
and every week they serve up a gourmet selection of bootlegs
and radio broadcasts that have never been commercially available.
Not exactly legal, but then this is music you can’t legitimately
buy anywhere at any price. The great unreleased 1991 Band
album with Jules Shear, Neil Young live in Vancouver in 1970,
Springsteen live three months ago on the BBC, some unspeakably
weird and wonderful Japanese blues—every week it’s like getting
a present, and it’s all high quality and killer-B stuff. Free.
The controversial Russian site AllofMP3.com has everything—ev-err-ee-thing—for
sale for about 10 cents a song. It’s supposedly legal (for
now) under Russian law, and some of the money does apparently
get to songwriters and labels. It has at least the feel
of legitimacy, you can choose the format and the quality of
your downloads (consumer choice? What a concept!), it’s fast,
efficient, easy and it’s an absolute blast to buy from.
You don’t have to be a tech-head. You don’t have to be necessarily
smart. Try it. Crack open a beer, log on, and go fishing.
Chance are in an hour’s time you’ll have a prodigious library
that will keep your ears happy for a month.