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Mixes, the CD-R, and Music Piracy

FEATURED SONG: REC – “Gold” (from Parts and Labour)

Welcome to WEEK 262 of MUSIC is not a GENRE (Video #88 & S4Ep29)

MIXES and the CD-ARRR: At Some Point We Were ALL PIRATES

What I’m about to discuss is highly illegal. Some of it. Maybe. Among other things, it’s a primer on what music piracy is & isn’t, and who the real pirates are. But before that, let me tell you why I’m getting into this.

As I’ve said a dozen or more times, I’ve been a DJ since I was a teen. I started making mixes by bouncing songs from one cassette player to another. Then I used a mixing board & two turntables to record my mixes with crossfades & other fun punch-ins – again on cassette. I took it live in high school & college. After that, I’d create a mix for our annual Halloween party, and a mega mix every two years. Plus a BUNCH of specialty mixes for friends, lovers & other occasions.

There were several technological developments that converged to change everything.

· The internet. Sure, it’s actually been around for like 50 years, but most of us know it really took hold in the early-mid 1990s – the days of the AOL disc.

· The CD-R (or CD-RW). Introduced in the late 1980s, the tech became affordable about a decade later. That allowed me to record a higher quality live mix than on cassette, using the best songs from two years of my purchases.

· The mp3 (and wav). Again, look to the late 1980s for this innovation, and the 1990s for its wider dissemination. What you might recall is that computers & the internet were too slow & weak to handle lots of higher quality files (like wavs), which is why the mp3 was so important. Especially when it came to…

· File sharing. Documents & other very small files have been shared over the internet since the 1970s, but again it was the 1990s when this took hold. And it was the early-mid 2000s when it blew sky high – in more ways than one. Remember Napster? LimeWire & FrostWire? Kazaa? The BitTorrent protocol?

Once all those came together, I was like a diabetic in a candy store, gobbling up everything I could get my hands on even if it was ultimately a bad idea. Yep, like most of us, I was a music pirate and happy to be one. I created several collections of music that I’d never have been able to afford otherwise, and loved every minute. Fun as hell and incredibly educational, but again, a bad thing to do.

But was it? Yes and no – and that “no” is qualified by what came after. Music piracy didn’t die because it was outlawed. (In fact, it’s alive and well with things like free online software that lets you rip songs from YouTube.) It died because music & tech companies got wise. They saw an opportunity to cash in in a big way. They made it hella easier to acquire nearly unlimited music legally – first with Rhapsody/Listen, then iTunes, then everything else we know and lo- … tolerate.

Now things are better for everyone, right? Wrong. These companies have made music consumption super convenient, improving the experience for both the listener & the companies themselves. But make no mistake: the music creators themselves are still being pirated.

When pirating was peer-to-peer, it felt a lot like what we used to do when we taped a vinyl album onto cassette to share it with a friend. Yes, the artist lost some revenue, but ultimately no harm done. With streaming services, music & tech companies are basically in partnership to give as little to musicians as possible. They’re allowing people access to almost any music they want, pocketing most of the money, and shaving off hundredths of cents per stream as a token payment to the artists. This is worse than pirating. It’s the robber baron era all over again (as in every industry for decades now).

So I don’t feel bad about these cassettes & CDs that have been collecting dust on my shelves. I wasn’t making money from them. And the little money that artists lost pales in comparison to what we’re all losing today. The ultimate irony? Napster has been legal for years, and now has one of the best streaming royalty rates of any service.

According to my royalty reports, my most listened to song is “Gold”, with nearly one million plays. At the average royalty rate, that has netted me about $100. Please go listen to this at REC’s Bandcamp site, where artists get a bigger share of revenue than anywhere else. And then go find it everywhere and stream it 30 million times.

REC – “Gold” (from Parts and Labour)

Do you have a history with ripping music or file sharing services? Have you made your own mixes? Does it bother you that musicians get so little for the work they do, while already wildly successful companies pocket most of the money? Are you still willing to buy and own music in the era of streaming? Discuss dammit!


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