Is Downloading Music that Bad?

Music has its moral dilemmas. Stay indie and poor, or create an image and sell? Stay fully-clothed and bubblegum, or strip down and get dirty? Buy CDs or…download them?

I have no instrumental talent. And I wear a lot of clothes. But when it comes to downloading free music I am guilty. GUILTY! Sorta. I guess I’m part of the 1.8 billion unauthorized downloads in 2002 that Senator Rosen claims have been made. Shouldn’t I be ashamed? I am an outspoken fan of good music; I love how even bad musicians get up there and give it the ol’ college “I’m tired of eating Ramen” try. Lars Ulrich wasn’t necessarily mad that the Insane Clown Posse might be losing a few dollars from free file sharing, but it is the principal that counts. I wish I had the time to get out there every weekend, load and unload hundreds of pounds of PA and play my ass off for 40 dollars and a bar tab. But I’m not. So what do I do instead? Steal your souls!

But it’s sooooooooo tempting. All the tools are right there! Remember back in the days when your buddy had a vinyl LP of the Shaft soundtrack and you just popped in a blank tape and not quite “burned” a copy for yourself, but slow-roasted one? No one seemed to have a problem with it then. Just think of using the Internet as having the ability to do that really, really fast with a whole lotta people. It’s the Bunny Ranch of music, except you don’t pay anyone and there’s no risk of catching VD.

That’s so hard to resist! You’re sending your best stuff to people; they’re puttin’ out their best songs. The problem is that after awhile you aren’t even sharing music you uploaded. The songs you trade are songs you traded in order to trade for other songs previously traded. Simple, eh? And the guy or girl that wrote that song? Or put in the studio time to make it? He gets nada.

Despite this entire moral scale-balancing, I’m still inclined to download. I don’t have many vices, but I guess I’ll list this file-sharing as one. However, I’ve set myself to certain limitations, like the crack head who will only smoke at his home and not a crack house and only on the weekends when his kids aren’t coming over. OK, not that bad, but here’s what I’ve come up with:

1) Live tracks. I couldn’t possibly make every concert I want to see, so a live track that was already mischievously bootlegged and wasn’t intended for sale in the first place will do me just fine. I’ve found some strange collaborations, too. Prince and Shania Twain singing “Still The One”. Tori Amos and Bjork. U2 playing a small club in Cleveland. I’m willing to bet that I’ll never get to see some of my favorite artists live in concert. So I’ll just listen to someone else’s illegal recording. The deed is already done!

2) Stuff I used to own. Somewhere in New Zealand are my paid-for copies of Smashing Pumpkin’s Siamese Dream and The Cure’s Mixed Up. I loaned them to a guy from Rotoruda way back when I worked summer camps. I never got them back. I think that, because of my love to share good tunes, I’ve lost about 30 CDs. Downloading those songs is just a way to get them back without having to shell out 15.98 or buy a pre-scratched CD from a used store.

3) Don’t burn locals or artists I really, really like. I refuse to burn the White Stripes. I absolutely love them now! Elephant is a killer f’ing CD! I also own the self-titled album. The newest one is even crazier! I still have two more to buy. If I really, really like someone that hasn’t been shoved down my throat or is making music closest to the way they intended to make it (as opposed to a record industry-type saying “that needs to be a single”), then I’ll go out to the store and buy it. OK, I only buy about 4 CDs a year, but that’s what I do for any new aforementioned Prince or Tori, and even Eminem. And locals? I’ll pass on a song, or loan a CD, but I forbid any total burning. I usually get more fun at the live shows anyway. I want everyone else to have that fun. I also would rather purchase a CD for a friend than burn one. Burning one as a primary gift is kinda like giving someone your 6 month-old shirt: It’s almost new, but a little cheap.

4) Already established singles 5 years or older. You know, Shatner and Nimoy do a lovely cover of “If I Had a Hammer.” I’ve got it on my hard drive. And I seriously doubt that Thomas Dolby is 12 cents poorer from me downloading “She Blinded Me With Science”. Sometimes one of those old tracks gets stuck in my head and I’ve got to dig it out and listen repeatedly until it’s gone.

I break the rules from time to time, but I’ve pretty much stayed within my immoral lines. Jeremiah Thompson of SMO once suggested I check out a band called Soulive. I really couldn’t see myself buying a whole CD of someone I may or may not like, and he didn’t have a copy with him, so I burned a few tracks. And it’s good stuff! I told another friend about them, and he told me I should try a group called String Cheese Incident, and that was some nifty material as well. If I can get a kitchen pass (that’s military jargon for “permission from the wife without any hassle about leaving her at home with the kids and aren’t you too old to be going to shows anyway?), I’ll check them out.

Trading songs hasn’t eaten at me as bad since I started these personal guidelines. I love it when I look at what people are, um, “borrowing” from me and it’s my rarer goods. My stash varies from Mary J. Blige to Mazzy Starr to The Mooney Suzuki ( My friend Junebug of the Thunderkatz turned me to them). If you fellow sharers have any bands you’d like to recommend for my oh-so-bad habit, e-mail me at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 × eight =