This musing of mine was inspired by a conversation on the wall of Wormrot’s singer, Arif. If you don’t know the band, and are interested in grindcore, check ’em out here.
DOWNLOADING IS KILLING MUSIC, BUT NOT AS YOU THINK
Ironic as this may seem, coming from a person who has just spent 3 months living in Russia (a country renowned for its nonchalant attitude to illegally acquire pretty much anything from music, movies, games etc.) but I am against illegally downloading music. Not as an entire concept, however; I have a specific definition for what I consider illegal downloading. But part of my gripe with people who download is that they are encouraging this current situation we have with many genres of music, not exclusive to metal. A situation which simply did not exist 20 years ago, and not just because of the invention of the Internet, which I believe can be used positively to promote music to fans who would not normally have heard of the band, geographically or stylistically.
Firstly, to class what I consider as ‘immoral downloading‘. I will be the first to admit that I will procure an album by questionable means if I want to see what the band is like, as a way of sampling the product; try-before-you-buy is nothing new, it’s a concept that predates downloading by a long way. The fulcrum of this method though, is that I either buy the album later or I delete the files because the band doesn’t interest me. However, what I consider wrong is when people download hundreds of albums, storing them on an external hard drive for instance, and never paying for them. This kind of behavior is what I think is killing music, but not only for the financial repercussions of the bands/artists that lose out on royalties etc. That line has been fairly well explored and explained by a myriad of metal artists ranging from Alan Averill to Angela Gossow, and can also be attributed to Roadrunner closing their UK, EU and Canadian branches recently, and they’re not the first major label to do so. It’s a sad state of affairs, especially the gap in the logic of some downloaders who say “oh, I’ll just see ’em at a gig”, and then realize the band can’t come to their town due to a lack of funds.
But an argument which many seem to miss, and something I have noticed of late, is that it is relatively simple for a new band to quickly gain an audience for their music, with almost no effort. With the advent of MySpace, Reverbnation and Facebook pages, social networking has energized a wave of bands who can garner a sizable reputation (‘likes’) regardless of musical talent within the band. So in short, an objectively terrible band can get 500 likes on Facebook, and some of them can ‘get big’ and record multiple releases, whereas 20 years ago they’d have split up after a couple of demos. The Darwinian approach to music has almost disappeared; there was a time when if you were good (or at least lucky) you stuck around in the scene, and if you sucked you broke up. Nowadays anybody can form a band and record in their bedroom (another advance in technology which has pros and cons), releasing demos and EPs until they get label interest or amass enough of a base to fund themselves…
There is an absolute plethora of bands nowadays, and while I have a whole lot of respect for many of them, a lot have nothing going for them except for being backed by a label who supports them for commercial viability rather than innovative music. Within metal, it’s easy to condemn the metalcore community of this particular crime, but it’s certainly not the only scene that faces this problem. Genres as varied as power metal, goth metal, thrash metal, death metal and black metal have all experienced this snowballing of bands, with no more than a handful of newer diamonds to be found nowadays amidst the copycats of current trends and ripoffs of significant influences. It becomes tiresome to specialize in certain genres, when you realize that many of the newer bands you listen to sound remarkably familiar; I noticed this in the newer waves of melodic death metal, as everything has become exceedingly self-referential and I have heard few new acts that have seriously made me sit up and take notice.
Regrettably, this is not the only bad news that downloading has created. Possibly a contentious issue, but another change which metal has undergone is the lessening of the concept of ‘local scenes’. Nowadays, due to the globalization that metal has undergone, it is feasible to mix up a playlist of Turkish heavy metal, Taiwanese black metal and Kenyan death metal, all coming from a UK radio station. “Why listen to local acts when you can discover talent from other countries?” Well, for one reason, a local death metal band is more likely to play your residential pub than a Kenyan one, that seems more certain. I would consider it more of a support for the general scene if you, as a Brit, go to a paying gig in England instead of download the demo of a band further afield (I don’t pay for mp3s on principle). By all means acquire the demo, but I can’t comprehend skipping out on a chance to go to a local gig, just because it’s not a band that you know well.
So, as a conclusion, my personal suggestion would be to by all means download, but keep it responsibly. Inquire into new bands that may interest you, give the album a spin or two, but then make an investment into the band, and therefore into the scene. Simple economics dictates that the more money circulating in a business, the more successful the business becomes. So if you want to see the bands you love playing headline gigs and festivals, then help support the lesser-known acts around you, and support the music that you think is worth it. It all comes back around.
More articles by Angel here.