(Listen)

Innovations in digital distribution (most often originating from outside the recording and publishing industries) have significantly changed users’ relationships to the music they consume.

Photo taken from stuffwhitepeoplelike.com

In a study conducted for New Media & Society, a sample of 630 college students participated in a music downloading study. Nine in ten, or 89.8 percent, of the respondents had downloaded music from the web. The participant pool was 69 percent Caucasian, 14 percent African American, 8 percent Hispanic and 8 percent other. The respondents downloaded an average of 265 songs in the past year and had an average of 677 songs stored on their computers.

The study concluded that for the most part college-aged individuals view music downloading—like other web applications—as entertainment. The conclusion raised questions about the purposefulness of the downloading. Some college students go to the web to download specific songs that they enjoy. Others appear to be less goal-directed and view downloading as a way to occupy time.[1]

Disposable income was the second dominant factor in making the decision to download music illegally, according to the study. It states, “The strength of the convenience/economic utility factor in this study reflects the respondents’ interests in the immediacy and accessibility of acquiring music via the web as well as the cost benefit.”[2]

John Aronno relates music to food. He stated that people will always spend some amount of money on music.

“Economic downturns don’t depress music, they make people turn to it. Music is what gets us through the worst of times. Piracy has become so prevalent because it is so convenient, not because people couldn’t afford to purchase the music,” said Aronno.

Evan Phillips believes it has more to do with making the best of your resources.

“I think it has a little to do with income level.  It has more to do with being smart,” said Phillips. “If 100 people are given the opportunity to pay for something versus getting it for free, my hunch is that at least 80 of them would choose to get it for free despite income level.”

The IFPI collected data in 2006 indicating that in the five largest European music markets (UK, Germany, Spain, Sweden and France), most of the users of legal music download services were newcomers to Internet music downloading.

Image taken from the Capitalist Shrugged blog.

Legal downloads of songs to iPods, computers, and other devices have stalled, researcher Nielsen Soundscan reports, growing just 0.3 percent last year. Also, a early digital money maker for music companies, ring tones, peaked in 2007 at $714 million and have since fallen 24 percent, according to data from researcher SNL Kagan.

P2P file sharing is illegal, and it is apparent to the people who do so that it cuts into the revenue of the music industry. This does little to sway this group, however, viewing the falling percentiles and millions and the money spent on campaigns to halt such operations as pure greed.

It is often referred to as ethically questionable behavior in consumption. Dr. Kyoko Fukukawa of the Bradford University School of Management argues that “rather than applying pre-existing universal moral principles, more than 80 percent of consumers make ethics related decisions on ad hoc and contextual basis, weighing factors such as cost perceived benefit and value against ethical considerations.”[3]

Other scholars argue that the music labels are now threatened by true competition from new Internet services providers. Their business models are based upon inclusiveness, interaction and competition through exposure of many artists, as well as high variety and low price for users.[4] Their direct and indirect economic effects can be huge, and they open up our cultures.

Toxic Music. Taken from the Lonesome Writer Amaryeahtajuddin blog.

One of the mechanisms the recording industry has tried to implement to fight P2P file sharing is depositing large volumes of polluted music files into file sharing networks. Some examples of polluting a music file include replacing part of the content with white noise, cutting the duration, inserting warnings about the illegality of P2P downloading or changing the song title.

Within public advertising and campaigning (funded by trade associations) the discourse of downloading illegal content as being unethical and immoral is common. There is an explicit intention to shape consumer behavior to benefit the industry by encouraging higher user spending on cultural goods.

The Music Matters anti-piracy campaign reminds consumers to “make the ethical choice.”

Monolith Agency is an example of how people in the music industry can continue to make money. Bands on the Agency’s roster tour heavily, and it makes a percentage of off every show it books for bands. Publishing and licensing songs are yet another way for artists to generate revenue.

“There’s a lot of money to be made in licensing your songs to commercials, movies, and TV shows.  My band mate Leeroy Stagger had a 45-second clip of one of his songs on Gray’s Anatomy a few years ago,” said Phillips. “He’s still getting residual royalties off that.  I’m pretty sure he got a check for $12,000 last year.”

If we decide to punish people, I think the most fitting crime would be for them to be forced to learn how to play the song they’ve downloaded on a musical instrument of the perpetrator’s choosing. But, again, as long as it’s not for-profit piracy, I don’t have an issue with it.” –John Aronno


[1] Kinnally, W., Lacayo, A., McClung, S., & Sapolsky, B. (2008). Getting up on the download: college students’ motivations for acquiring music via the web. New Media & Society, 10(6), 893-913. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

[2] Kinnally, W., Lacayo, A., McClung, S., & Sapolsky, B. (2008). Getting up on the download: college students’ motivations for acquiring music via the web. New Media & Society, 10(6), 893-913. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

[3] Fukukawa, K. (2002). “Developing a framework for ethically questionable behavior in consumption,” Journal of Business Ethics, 41, 1-2, p. 99-119.

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