Digital Audio World

Musings and information on podcasting, digital audio, online streaming audio and home studio recording from Tim 'Gonzo' Gordon of

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Music Downloading Actually Spurs Sales?

Back in the Old Days of the 70s and 80s, when I was a music director at a variety of 'top 40' stations (before the format splintered into a hundred iterations), the record industry thought they had a problem. Apparently, they'd found out that people were making copies of their albums on cassette and passing them around. Yup, music fans would make compilations of their favorite tunes and artists, make copies and pass them around to friends and family.

GASP! This was seen as STEALING, by Gum and by Gosh! "Artists will lose royalties," they said, and sort of as an aside, "we'll lose money." So they went into the offensive mode. They released statements to the press; they put skulls and crossbones icons on albums with the statement 'Home Taping is Killing Music.'

But a funny thing happened. When people shared their cassettes with friends, the opposite happened. It actually spurred sales. When Jay gave a cassette to Jimmy, and he liked a few songs on it, Jay would go and buy the album...maybe two or three or more.

Of course the recording industry always maintained this was not true (well, most of the time). But about this time (early 90's) a government study came out that showed people sharing tunes on cassettes actually DID increase sales.

Then came the digital world...slowly. It came as compact discs in the late 80s and early 90s. One big worry back then was the re-selling of used CD's which seemed to really irritate some folks. In fact the largest selling country artist of his time, Garth Brooks, came out with the statement that re-selling CD's was ripping off the artist that created it. No matter how you presented it, the argument eventually fell flat. You'd buy a CD, decided you didn't like it (or you'd gotten an extra as a gift or something like that), and sell it back to the store, then buy more. What would it look like if General Motors complained about you re-selling a used car? Or if Sony complained about the used TV market? Pretty silly. And Garth looked silly - even to the point that Music Millennium in Portland, Oregon had a 'Garth Brooks' CD barbecue (which got them a lot of press) to show they were strongly against Garth's stance. They even pulled NEW Garth Brooks CD's off their shelves.

What's this leading up to? Well, with billions of music downloads via the internet the last few years, the argument that file-sharing actually can help sell more albums has all but vanished. Yet stories are starting to rise through to the surface of all the RIAA's legalistic hammering. Here's one that surfaced today. Yes, the download world is changing, but I still think when you share music with friends, it HELPS the doesn't HURT them. No matter what form - cassette or MP3 - is shared, if the band or the song is good, the act of sharing will attract fans...and that means more sales...and that means its good for the band.

Here's an anecdotal story of this happening exactly (okay, almost exactly) as I described:
For the Ex-Buccaneer, a Pillage-Free Playlist is from the NY Times writer John Schwartz.


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