More Thoughts on File Sharing & Downloading Music


I've been playing the guitar since I was eight years old. My first guitar, which I got for Christmas in 1956 looked like the red one in the picture at right. I found this guitar in Berkeley, CA at Subway Guitars. My emotional pleading couldn't convince the owner that it should be in my hands and I suppose it's still with the Subway collection.
. The top and sides were cardboard -- very thick and very stiff, but cardboard, never-the-less. It was hard to keep in tune, difficult to fret, but playable. I learned all the songs in the little book that came with the guitar: "Red River Valley", "Home on the Range", "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain" and a few other ditties. In addition to these eternal favorites, over the course of the next couple years, I picked out a several  hits of the day -- Elvis' "Don't Be Cruel", Jimmie Rodgers' "Honeycomb", and Johnny Cash's "Teenage Queen". I did this by listening to the radio diligently, hoping to hear the song(s) one more time to learn the next verse or to verify my chords. I even managed to rip off the lead licks to "Love is Strange" in this manner. My family didn't own a "hi-fi"... just the radio
By the time we finally acquired a family "stereo" in about 1960, I'd progressed to a Silvertone Dan-Electro, two pickup and had learned to play by ear pretty well for a 12 year old kid -- all using my listen-and-play radio method. But with the arrival of the stereo, my allowance money was committed then, as it would be through the remainder of my life, to buying the recorded music that I love. I think my first purchases were "Elvis' Golden Records, Vol. 1" and Chet Atkins' "Teensville". To this day, I play some of the songs and often musically quote from both of these LP's.
In the years since my first purchases, I've accumulated well over 1000 LP's, about 2000 CD's, hundreds of 45's and cassette tapes too numerous to count. My storage unit is packed with miles of open reel tape, and I even have a respectable 8-track library. In this modern age of downloading, I have a monthly agreement with the new Napster and I've used it frequently. I've done my part to support the recorded music industry, not only as a supplier, but as a consumer. And I fully expect to continue this support.

But consider the changes that have occurred in the economics of creating a saleable recording. My first nationally released recording was completed in 9 hours at an 8 track studio -- they had good mics and a nice acoustic echo chamber, but their facilities were primitive by today's standards. Our studio bill was over $1000 -- in todays money, that's about $6750 according to Department of Commerce inflation multipliers. A typical modern over-dubbed recording for a 12 song CD should be, at a minimum, $32,400 simply for studio time. I believe union scale for recording in 1970 was $30/hour -- in today's dollars, paying the 4 musicians scale for recording would be abou $38,800. Mastering, pressing, and minimal print advertising and publicity could push the total bill to $250,000 -- for an independent release that might sell 2500 copies if the artist is extremely lucky.

But we know this is not the case. Studio time at modern computerized digital studios often goes for under $25/hour and the hours are tallied conservatively. The weakening of the A. F. of M. means most players will accept $50 per track and "official" band members frequently receive no pay. Duplicators offer retail-ready packages for close to $1.25 per unit, CD and printing included. And if internet download becomes the standard of exchange, the release price of a single track, minus support costs, might fall to under $100 per track! The manufacturing price per unit spread over 2500 "sold" would figure out to be about FOUR CENTS per unit! Remove the value of the intellectual property -- and given the sheer volume of material created in todays music world, this value is marginal -- it's debatable if recorded music has any real intrinsic manufacturing value.

Maybe it's time that we artist give up the concept of buying the ranch by selling our recorded music. The truth is, radio play constitutes free advertising (if you ignore the whopping independent promotion fees required to bribe Clear Channel or Cox into playing a song.) Maybe we should get back to performing and entertaining... accept that recording is a price we pay, and a very minimal price at that, to advertise and attract fans to our live performance. Maximum bang for the buck would accrue to those who most widely distribute their recording, not to those who obtain maximum price for minimal distribution.

Think about it...