Why Bands Should Pirate Their Own Music

by on November 6th, 2010
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Just twenty years ago, recording a full album would take thousands of dollars. These days, bands record stuff in their living rooms for next to nothing, and with enough work, recordings can sound amazing.

Of course, there’s been a big trade-off. It’s magnificently easy to record music these days, but it’s also magnificently easy to steal music. Most fans don’t even think of illegal downloads as stealing. In fact, I had to think carefully about whether I even wanted to use the word “illegal” in that last sentence, as it’s almost an offensive term to some music listeners.

My last album, which is available on my website, didn’t sell very well. However, it was pirated like crazy. When I sent my CD in for distribution, a torrent of it showed up almost immediately–probably from a staff member of the distribution company, who wants to get some sweet upload karma on a private torrent tracker or something.

At first, I was pleased. People actually wanted to hear my stuff! I figured the sales would eventually pick up. They didn’t, but the downloads were nuts.

Regardless of whether you’re a musician or a fan, you’re probably thinking that this will be a bitter anti-piracy article. It’s not. The thing is, I’m still glad that my music was pirated. When I release my next album this year, I’m going to pirate it myself. I’m posting a torrent of it as soon as the album goes on sale. Here’s a few reasons why I’m taking this step.

My fans will support me. I’m not worried about money. Like most musicians, I’ll make most of my cash through physical sales at my shows. There will be a digital download option on my website, but I’ll make it clear that the album can be found for free on torrents.

Who would pay, you ask? People who dig my stuff. Check out what Louis CK did this year. He put up a comedy special for $5, completely free of DRM copyright protection. He made over a million bucks and even on the most popular torrent websites, it was difficult to find a well-seeded torrent of the thing, simply because he asked people to pay.

I’m not Louis CK, but I’ve got a few fans and friends. They’ll buy my album if they can afford to and I’ll get a lot of new listeners from the torrents, some of whom will actually enjoy my stuff.

By putting my own torrent up, I have control over it.
I can put in a little note that explains something about the songs and make sure that the quality is consistent from one song to the next.

I can even put in an audio snippet at the front of the first track that lets people know that I’m cool with torrents and tells them how to donate.

There’s also the bragging rights. If I post my own torrent, I can easily watch how many downloads it gets. 1,000 downloads or more shows some definite interest in my music, regardless of who paid what. If I get those types of numbers, they’ll be helpful in getting gigs. In other words, I’ve got a lot to gain by putting up my own torrent, but pretty little to gain by letting someone else do it.

You can’t fight the current. I could try to sue people for torrenting my stuff, but I don’t have the money and I have no interest in doing that. For the record, I pay for the music I listen to, but it’s clear that it’s an unpopular way to do things these days. Since people are going to “steal” music regardless, as artists it’s best for us to do whatever we can to keep some control over the presentation of that music.

What do you think? Should small bands post their own torrents of their stuff, or should musicians try to fight piracy? Post below.

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