An American University senior and National Public Radio intern recently “touched off a small firestorm in the music industry,” leaping into the ongoing economic, existential, and generational debate over online music consumption.
In a post for NPR’s music blog “All Songs Considered,” Emily White, general manager of American University’s student radio station WVAU, confessed that even while loving music she has hardly spent a cent to acquire her massive song and album collection.
“I am an avid music listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ,” she wrote. “My world is music-centric. I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs. I’ve never supported physical music as a consumer. As monumental a role as musicians and albums have played in my life, I’ve never invested money in them aside from concert tickets and T-shirts.”
White explained that digital natives recognize “the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians,” but they are simply too enamored with the ease through which they can acquire free music, instantly.
In her words, “I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience. . . . All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want, and how I want it. Is that too much to ask?”
The post has gotten more than 900 comments so far, impassioned retorts on separate blogs, and outside media coverage including a New York Times recap.
Some are applauding White for her candor, agreeing that whether everyone likes it or not free music file-sharing and downloading is happening en masse among many music fans today. Others are expressing optimism that her dream of a more convenient pay-music service will soon be realized.
A majority of respondents though are branding her a criminal or musical Judas– professing to be a true music aficionado but refusing to support the artists who create it. As one commenter noted, “I am shocked by this blog post. Emily, you are stealing. Stealing is dishonest. And it is a crime. As a musician, a singer, and an actor who works hard for the money, reading this makes me sick. I am finding that your Gen Y culture simply thinks that entitlement, getting what you want, when you want it, is the norm.”
The most read and cited retort to White’s post is an open letter of sorts written by David Lowery of the rock groups Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven.
Addressing White directly, Lowery wondered why some young people consider it so inconvenient to use iTunes to pay for music. He lamented a society in which a “machines gone wild” mentality has placed technology in charge of our morals instead of the other way around. And he expressed confusion at why students who are so quick to support social justice issues worldwide approach music with a shrug and a file share.
“Many in your generation are willing to pay a little extra to buy ‘fair trade’ coffee that insures [sic] the workers that harvested the coffee were paid fairly,” wrote Lowery, who currently serves as a music instructor at the University of Georgia. “Many in your generation will pay a little more to buy clothing and shoes from manufacturers that certify they don’t use sweatshops. Many in your generation pressured Apple to examine working conditions at Foxconn in China. Your generation is largely responsible for the recent cultural changes that has given more equality to same-sex couples. On nearly every count your generation is much more ethical and fair than my generation. Except for one thing. Artist rights.”
What do you think? Do you side with White or Lowery in this ongoing music debate?
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