Cutting contest, part 2

Mum is the world when it comes to the illegal distribution of music. So many people do it and so few people talk about it. Trombonist and regular porch sitter Bryan Hooten and saxophonist and regular rival John Lilley have each contributed 500 more words discussing both sides of this topic.

cut·ting   
[kuht-ing]
–noun
1. the act of a person or thing that cuts.
2. something cut, cut off, or cut out.
3. Horticulture . a piece, as a root, stem, or leaf, cut from a plant and used for propagation.

con·test   
[n. kon-test; v. kuhn-test]
–noun
1. a race, conflict, or other competition between rivals, as for a prize.
2. struggle for victory or superiority.
3. strife in argument; dispute; controversy: Their marriage was marred by perpetual contest.

cut·ting con·test 
[kuht-ing-kon-test] 
1. A form of musical battle between two improvisatory musicians.

Mum is the world when it comes to the illegal distribution of music. So many people do it and so few people talk about it. Trombonist and regular porch sitter Bryan Hooten and saxophonist and regular rival John Lilley have each contributed their rebuttals to Cutting Contest Part 1.

John Lilley

Professor Hooten, I have to say that accepting illegal copies and full hard drives of music from fellow musicians is a razor fine line indeed. If you say, as you do in your article, that downloading music is wrong because it’s stealing, what is the difference between downloading it through the internet versus another persons hard drive? Would not this still be classified as “stealing” in the eyes of the law? A hard drive “full” of music?! Lets see, the 60GB music library on my home computer is about 7,200 tracks. Now if we assume 10 tracks come on a CD at $10.00 a disc we are talking upwards of $7,000 worth of stolen property in your possession!

We must draw a distinction, however, between stealing and pirating. Unlike stealing, pirating does not necessarily constitute a direct monetary loss to the creator of the product. For example, lets say I develop a faint but persistent interest in hearing the newest Lady Gaga recording. Something where my infatuation is not so great as to actually shell out fifteen bucks for the CD, but enough so that I felt it was worth my while to waltz down to the local music store and steal myself a copy. The CD that I stole represents a direct loss to the store, the record label and the artist. Because I stole the CD, no one will ever be able to purchase that particular copy.

Conversely, pirating the same recording online only constitutes stealing if I ever intended on buying it because there’s no direct monetary loss. It is certainly common for people to expect to be able to hear a CD cover to cover before purchasing it. The fact that record labels have purposely leaked recordings in order to build buzz around a recording is well documented. In addition, many of the records being pirated in the infancy of the MP3 revolution were recordings that people already owned on CD.

Napster was much more accessible and well known in this time period than software that allowed you to convert your CD’s to MP3’s. Interestingly, ‘Fair Use’ copyright law doesn’t explicitly allow the duplication of a CD you own into MP3 format unless expressly permitted either, so it wouldn’t be sure fire way to avoid breaking copyright law.

The truth is that most people pirating music are the same people partially financially driving the industry as well as representing a key demographic for album sales. By releasing albums for streaming and leaking them to internet bloggers before they are available for purchase, the industry is acknowledging the truth that they missed when prosecuting pirates in the Napster versus Metallica era. As the old adage says “No press is bad press”, and in a time when reaching an expansive target audience is more difficult than ever for advertisers, due to the fragmentation in the way we access media, CD length recordings just might be the advertisements of the future.

Bryan Hooten

My esteemed colleague makes several excellent points. Most importantly, his argument that the ubiquitous illegal access to media has “prompted a money bloated and backward looking music industry to change in profound and potentially wonderful ways” is an apt one. While I agree with him that change is good, I disagree with vilifying the whole music industry, which I assume includes record companies, booking agents, publicists, managers etc. While the internet has made it easier for musicians to DIY their own careers, the above professionals play a vital role in disseminating music to the audience.

When we download music illegally, we destroy the ability for these people do their jobs as well. I think John and I can both agree that we have met and worked with plenty of “music-industry” types who were as passionate and dedicated as the musicians they represent. Before we celebrate the death of the Evil Music Industry at the hands of illegal downloading, we must ask ourselves how much of the music we love we would even know about without the people working behind the scenes.

Yes, illegal downloading has pushed the need for, as John puts it, “premium content.” Would he then argue that as soon as our computers can handle this content, it’s ok to download that illegally too? If so, where is the line? We eventually put ourselves on a path where no one makes money from recording music.

I recognize that John believes the moral questions here to be irrelevant. Even if we ignore the moral consequences, the effect of illegal downloading on our psyches is a real one. I would argue all art gives us the chance to slow down, to focus. I am not convinced that the ability for us to have whatever we want, whenever we want it, is a good thing. Many times, while on trips to New York, my fellow musicians and I would take a visit to Tower Records while it was still open. The breadth of options there was more paralyzing for me than exciting. I would much rather be in a small record store with fewer options to choose from.

Likewise, the constant contact and instant access provided by the internet has simultaneously brought human beings closer together but driven them farther apart as we chase down every possible piece of information. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that so many music fans love vinyl. Records are artifacts. They can exist in only one place at a time. We value our record collections because of these qualities. In short, we value the things we pay for. If we think of our digital media the same way we can stave off the continued fracturing of our attention and patience.

Bryan Hooten plays trombone in Ombak, Fight the Big Bull, No BS! Brass and is working on a solo trombone project. He teaches music at VCU, Hanover High School and James River High School and is a frequent contributor to RVANews and RVAJazz. He is currently accepting challenges in table-tennis. http://bryanhooten.com

John Lilley plays saxophone in Fight the Big Bull, Glows in the Dark and James Wallace in the Naked Light. When he isn’t closing big business deals at work he watches movies, cooks amazing food and engages in extemporaneous debate with friends.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Aaron Williams on said:

    Bryan Hooten capitalized Evil Music Industry = Electric and Musical Industries Ltd (known as EMI) is one of the “big four” record labels.

    Two points to Bryan Hooten!

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