In part one of this essay, I covered the legal, moral, ethical, technological, and economic aspects of downloading music. The gist of that discussion was that, all things considered, downloading is more trouble than it’s worth. In part two, I’m going to explain how I arrived at a surprising conclusion – that I actually would prefer to purchase digital music even if downloading weren’t freighted with so many philosophical and practical difficulties.
As I wrote in Part one, my habit during my downloading phase was to get as much of an artist’s discography as I could as soon as I figured out that they had recorded just one song I liked. Similarly, when an artist I was already a fan of released a new album, I would download it as soon as possible. I also used to download singles out of nostalgia – something I fleetingly recalled from a movie I’d seen in childhood in, for example. Songs like that are the kind of thing I don’t listen to consistently, so there was never any need for me own them and I find that Pandora and Youtube do a good job of satisfying the occasional need to hear something from the soundtrack to Top Gun or some of the West Coast hip hop that was popular while I was in high school. And although neither Pandora nor Youtube are actually free services, since they collect data and or subject the user to ads, the consumer experience with both of them at least feels like one is using a free service.
When I want to own an album these days, I usually buy it on Amazon Music. Of course there are other services one could use but I like the Amazon interface and its integration with the Amazon ecosystem. It doesn’t matter which particular company you buy through, the model is more or less the same – you buy the digital album, it stays in the cloud, you stream it whenever you want to listen to it, and you can download it when you need a copy.
What I’ve found I like so much about buying music instead of downloading it is that forces me to be more deliberate. When there’s money on the table, I want to make sure I’m going to enjoy the album I’m purchasing and, because I do, I spend more time researching it. I usually read a couple of reviews from websites I trust and listen to pieces of most of the tracks on Youtube. This has the result of ensuring that every album in my collection is one I’m going to have fun with or get something out of for more than a few spins. I thus have a much more focused collection which contains a lot less clutter.
So, while I view the moral and economic factors of the music downloading equation as ambiguous, and am very disappointed that our society has ceded to big business the term “piracy” to refer to an activity that doesn’t actually involve the sale of stolen or counterfeit goods, I’m not a downloader anymore. Besides being a prohibitively large pain in the ass, the ease of downloading encourages me to be much too indiscriminate in building my music collection, which leads to it being a giant mess of stuff I never liked in the first place that’s too big to navigate efficiently. I’m not here to tell you how to obtain or consume your music but I do hope that my explanation of how I discovered, much to my surprise, that I would rather buy music than download it has given you food for thought that could potentially make a small but real positive difference in your life. I also suggest that we all replace the word “piracy” with the phrase “illegal sharing” when we talk about downloading, just to be honest about what’s going on and not let commercial interests dictate the very language we use for their own benefit. And however you come buy the albums in your collection, here’s to rocking out! \m/