Pirated Booty

20 Sep

Now Johnny Depp can see what he’ll look like if he doesn’t quit smoking

September 19 is Talk Like a Pirate Day. In honor of this year’s celebration, here’s my one – and only – contribution:

Q: What’s a pirate’s favorite alternative band?


(Sorry … )

Of course, pirates in the music industry are a totally different scalawag, as far as the labels and many artists are concerned. I’ve seen statistics as high as 95% when it comes to the amount of downloaded music that was obtained illegally. This distresses me. I was a stage actor with an MFA and it took me years of training and practice to get paid for my work in a profession that many people would gladly do for free.  At least I did live musical theater, a type of performing arts you can’t download.

And yet … music seems different. It’s everywhere already – elevators, grocery stores, ring tones, beer commercials. When I take a CD out of the library and download it, it’s as if I copied a page out of a library-owned magazine. No harm, no foul: I’m not selling it or playing it a public venue that ought to have a license from BMI or ASCAP. It’s personal use on my personal computer or personal .mp3 player.


My older daughter thinks it’s ridiculous that I turn myself into an ethical pretzel over this. She considers songs to be a band’s promotional tools to get us to go to concerts and buy t-shirts, and some bands do, too. Plus, she has proof I’m a total hypocrite because I’ve asked her to rip songs off of YouTube for me to download. I can tell myself it’s justified because they weren’t available to download any other way–the tribute to George Harrison at his induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame featuring Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and an achingly gorgeous guitar solo by Prince, for example:

Now it’s legally available on iTunes, and I bought it … trying to prove I’m only slightly hypocritical.

Of course, being slightly hypocritical is as impossible as being slightly pregnant. There are so many ways to hear a song for free that are legal – YouTube, Pandora, Grooveshark – that I don’t have to go the extra dubious step by downloading it. And yet, I want to havethe song, to possess it and play it at will, as I did when I had crates of LPs, shoe boxes full of tapes and racks of CDs. I want tangible evidence that I have great taste.

Jon Mitchell of ReadWriteWeb agrees with me. He says the biggest problem with the new iPods is that it is designed to focus more on accessing music in the cloud – renting it, essentially – instead of downloading it to the device. “If we’re going to keep deep music appreciation around, we need to completely own our collections,” he says.

So now I’m lusting after a song I cannot find on iTunes: the tribute to Joe Strummer from the 2003 Grammys, featuring Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Van Zandt and Dave Grohl:

I ask you: should I add it to my treasure chest?

See you on the flip side … matey!


3 Responses to “Pirated Booty”

  1. C. Moss September 21, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    The best pirate quote is from ‘Long John Silver:’
    “…and thems what dies will be the lucky ones!”

    I got no moral standing to object, being a Napsterite back when and a dedicated freebooter in th wild’n’wooly pre-Windows early computer eras. Since then, I’ve gone legit. The idea that music–is just a means to sell performances (of what? Pure entertainment?) and merchandise, is interesting. When Richard Wagner (RING, not Frost) wrote, produced, and staged his art in the operatic form, he conceived of a total experience with music, visuals and state of the art for the19th Century special effects.
    But the music itself as an afterthought? Perfectly postmodern, and it sure explains GaGa. My prediction is that music will always be the bedrock, and will be what survives. The entertainment and spectacle will age and be left behind (Madonna, anyone?)
    People will remember GaGa spectaculars just as fondly nostalgic as some folks do that Kiss Concert back in 76.

  2. marmaladefille September 27, 2012 at 2:05 am #

    Whoa. That Prince solo is something. Gentle weeping it’s not. It’s AWESOME. But part of the fun is watching him rip–not just hearing it–so although of course you want it in the treasure chest, I bet you’ll keep coming back to the visual.

    I don’t agree about the whole merchandising/concert angle. Only a few people actually get to see their favorite artists live. Some artists don’t tour at all. And tours are often losing propositions from a money standpoint (even though ticket prices can seem astronomical). The bedrock is the music. That’s how I see it, anyway. But maybe I’m just old school.

    Youtube is pretty hard to resist. It is amazing the rare performances you can track down, easily too. And many of them are not for sale in any shape or form. So…no harm, no foul? At least in that regard.

  3. lpon45 September 27, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    I agree: the bedrock of a band’s popularity is the music. And that’s what’s at issue here: can they make their living off of selling songs, which is the way that most people experience that music? My daughter’s argument is that bands give away songs, or look the other way if people get them illegally, in order to broaden their audience. They make up the money they aren’t getting off of iTunes through concert ticket sales and merchandise … so it’s a wash.

    I don’t think that’s feasible for most bands starting up, though. It’s like actors doing plays for free for the experience and exposure, happy to be doing what they love to an audience … and working a second job. At what point can you afford to make your living off your art?

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