Image courtesy of Laserwolf

Anchorage’s music scene has been growing in recent years. This is not the result a of resurgence in music interest, but rather the blowout of social media. Everyone plus their grandma can be searched and found on Facebook, and the same goes for musicians. Having a social media presence allows artists to spread their work. Local artist Laserwolf is no exception to the trend.

On a cold, windy night in early March, local musician Todd Armstrong aka Laserwolf agreed to speak about file sharing and the ever-evolving music industry. The 21-year-old virtuoso scratched his unshaven chin and sipped on a glass of orange juice and vodka while recording equipment was being laid upon an unstable dining room table.

Across the living room sat a record player; something you rarely see in a young person’s dwelling. Within Armstrong’s room is a walk-in closet occupied with thousands of records. Tucked away in the musician’s pocket is a 160 GB iPod Classic. The MP3 player contains close to 15,000 songs. Armstrong is obviously a music enthusiast. Someone so embedded in music culture would never think of obtaining music illegally. But such an assumption is far from the truth.

Armstrong began making music when he was 14 years old. He downloaded the program FruityLoops, now known as FL Studio, after being introduced to it by a friend.

Image Taken from FLStudio.com

“I downloaded it, the same program (FL Studio). I stole it,” said Armstrong glancing into the camera with raised eyebrows, as to indicate the “theft” of the software launched his music endeavors.

As Laserwolf’s Facebook page indicates, he has been DJ-ing since 2008. Since turning 21 years old, he has played many more performances than in the past. The tracks Armstrong chooses to play at his shows are largely obtained through Internet blogs, and he likes performing because it allows him to share what he has found.

“I like DJ-ing because I like sharing the music that I’ve heard,” Armstrong said. “Because in general people don’t know how to get music… The good music. You know, you gotta’ dig on the Internet. I don’t know. I think of it as a way of sharing music.”

Music options are now limitless thanks to the digital revolution. People can easily download the newest singles or albums available at the click of a mouse. Whether that click carries out a legal or illegal action is up to the consumer. Many have opted for the illegal route despite multiple campaigns funded by the largest names in the music industry. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), an organization that represents the interests of the recording industry worldwide, close to 95 percent of music downloads are unauthorized, with no payments to the artists or producers.[1]

Treasure trove of “free” data

The majority of these downloads happens through peer-to-peer (P2P) networking. This networking is a distributed application that divides tasks or workloads between peers. Peers are equally privileged participants in the application. They each make a portion of their resources, such as processing power, disk storage or network bandwidth, directly available to other network participants. Sharing without central coordination creates peers that are both suppliers and consumers of resources.

Peer-to-peer networking, or file sharing, works in direct opposition to the music industry’s traditional model of business. A model in which they solely provided the goods (music) and clients consume. P2P file sharing became popularized by systems like Napster, and the networks tend to have a considerable emphasis on music.

P2P decentralized network. Image taken from Wikipedia Commons

New distribution methods have caused a power struggle between the industry and consumers. The dominant players of the old economy forcefully lobby in support of legal acts that target file sharing, such as the Digital Economy Act, which passed through the UK Parliament on April 8, 2010 and entered into force on June 12, 2010. The act grants the UK government wide-ranging powers to tighten copyright law. File sharing is focused on, with serious offenders having the speed or capacity of their broadband service limited or temporarily suspended. This means that the owner of a connection (café owners, universities or libraries) can be held liable, even if the owner is not personally responsible for downloading pirated material.

Others see file sharing as a positive step toward open and free information. As Birgitte Andersen of the University of London puts it, “New digital technology has the power to revitalize the cultural industries and the service economy, and to create more value for its businesses and its consumers. Through access to resources, low cost virtual premises and worldwide exposure, it opens up opportunities for businesses (no matter how small or big) and individuals, who have the determination and ideas to do something, providing they understand digital technology.” [2]

Regardless of which argument you find yourself in agreement with, the music industry has changed immensely in the past decade—Napster was introduced to the public in 1999. The industry is also struggling to keep up with the new digital economy.

“You can get anything. I had a really slow Internet connection and I would start to download a bunch of albums. I would go to sleep and wake up and have like five new albums. Yes!” Armstrong shouted clenching his fits for emphasis. “I can listen to these for weeks and be happy. They’re (major music labels) dead. They’re mammoths. They’re dinosaurs. They’re going extinct, and it’s inevitable.” -Todd Armstrong

[1] Andersen, Birgitte (2010). “Shackling the digital economy means less for everyone: the impact on the music industry.” Prometheus, 28: 4, 375-383.

[2] Andersen, Birgitte (2010). “Shackling the digital economy means less for everyone: the impact on the music industry.” Prometheus, 28: 4, 375-383.