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Why you should value music, and why some of Skream's fans are excellent

  • By AndyVale
  • 18 January 2014

At about 9:30am yesterday Skream popped this up on his Facebook page. It was a message that he found on the back of a recent release by the eclectic independent label Ninja Tune.


When it was first posted up the reaction was unbelievably disheartening. Here's a collection of flimsy justifications for illegally downloading music that popped up:

- "When did music become all about the money?"
- "I can't justify paying for music unless it's an absolutely must-have track."
- "We work 9-to-5 every day, it's hard to pay for life and pay for music."
- "...be happy you're getting paid at all for being creative."
- "Music should be free for everybody."
- "Musical aptitude is a gift, and you shouldn't make people pay for gifts."
- "I'd rather download (illegally) than pay the extortionate price to buy a CD or MP3."

Some of it felt a bit like crabs in a barrel. How dare he work hard, be successful, and expect to be compensated for the entertainment he gives to millions. But the real dry stuff was the lack of a concept that music had any sort of value. A couple seemed to live in an airy-fairy land where sets of decks are given from the sky, others just seemed cheap.

It bummed him out a little...

It got stuck in my head and wound me up the more I thought about it throughout the day. However, when I sat down to write this article I was cheered to see that the top rated comments were eloquently and succinctly defending the original post as well as the whole concept that music is a worthwhile commodity. This piece was originally going to be "why some Skream fans are lame" but I thought I'd shift the focus to the ones who weren't queefing out naff excuses for stealing someone's work. Go and look them up if you like, they are good people.

I would screengrab a load of their posts and put them up here, but this is my blog so I'll make my points that add to theirs.

I'm not going to get into a deep theoretical lecture about major label bottom lines, sales figures, and the ethics of streaming's financial model. I could bust out graphs and dig out articles, but I won't. I just want to make a couple of points on why I agree with some of the more practically minded fans of Skream.

The music industry is constantly evolving and I accept that it needs to keep moving with the times so that it doesn't get totally left behind when the commercial landscape shifts. But that doesn't mean it should feel it has to lie on its back and offer all of its wares for nothing in the hope that the simple magic of exposure will pay for studios, instruments, tour buses, promotional campaigns, equipment, food, rent, school meals, and Netflix accounts. It shouldn't feel like it has to be shy about what it's worth.

Yeah, there were some benefits to illegal downloading in the Napster age. In 2000 I bought albums by Johnny Cash, Dr. Dre, New Found Glory, Slipknot, DJ Shadow and Metallica (thanks for not arresting me Lars) after first downloading a couple of their tracks on Napster. They were artists who weren't getting played anywhere that the average 12 year-old knew about, but once I'd heard a couple of their tracks I was happy to buy one of their CDs when I saw them in the 2 for £22 CD offer at Virgin. It wasn't practical to download a whole album, it often wasn't possible to buy a single song.

But in 2014 things have changed, you have zero excuse for not paying for music. You can hear a song on the radio, enjoy the first chorus, and have it legally downloaded to your phone by the time the song finishes. All for the price of a can of Fanta. I don't have to bang on much about what you can do now, you already know. Perhaps you've seen this picture floating around, it highlights our weird relationship with buying music.

Picture this. You go to a club, you pay them to get in. You get ID'd by the door staff, who are being paid. You pay for a drink by giving money to the bar staff, who are also getting paid. You walk on a dance floor that was built by people who were paid, stand under lights built by paid electricians and hung up by paid technicians wearing glasses that they paid for at the opticians. You listen to a sound via speakers that were paid for and (hopefully) professionally installed, with the levels controlled by a paid sound guy or gal. On stage a man or woman is paid to control a set of decks (that were bought) and a mixer (that was paid for), probably while wearing clothes, jewelry, and headphones that they got due to a financial transaction to a supplying party.

No reasonable person has a problem with any of this, most of us do it at least once a week. But how come there are still people passionately defending the concept of not paying for the music that the DJ is playing? Nobody would be there without it, it should be the most important aspect of that whole scene. It should be revered and respected above all other things.

There is such a frustratingly entitled attitude to music at the moment among some people. They illegally download an artist's entire career, then complain when the radio never plays it. They slag off the record company who drop their favourite act, despite not paying for the records that the label funded. They accuse an act of selling-out because they did an advert, which they needed to do because their last album didn't break even. They moan about the price of tickets when a big name act comes to town, but weren't willing to pay a fraction of the ticket price to own that same act's last tune.

Some tracks are legally free, and rightfully so. We even give away some here. The difference between that and illegal ones is that both the artist and label are happy to give it away. It's their choice rather than some part-time audio anarchist's. Sometimes it works well and promotes the act, album, or label. This is one of the arguments often used by people to defend file sharing in 2014, sometimes they have a point and there are successes. But I postulate that there are many more failures, you just don't hear about them.

Last year I had a gig booked with a hotly-tipped, award-winning act who spontaneously leaked most of their album online. What was meant to be a buzz on the streets that spread like wildfire had fizzled out once everyone who would've paid for the album had downloaded it for free. The label (who presumably invested a lot in said album) split with the artist and cancelled the release, as well as the accompanying promo campaign I imagine. Despite our best efforts, a show that was originally expected to sell 400-500 tickets managed to sell... six. You know, the number after five and before seven. It was quietly cancelled. Even a bad gig for me in that venue would still sell about 250, this one wouldn't have paid for a single member of bar staff. So much for all the exposure!

To round this off, I still believe the most important factor of music is non-financial. The connection you can have with a piece of art is impossible to put a price on, and an act probably gets more satisfaction out of that than the 79p you may have paid them for it. But if you want that pleasure in the future then it needs investment. Buying an artist's music is probably one of the cheapest and most effective ways of showing your support for them, and it's immediately enjoyable.

Oh, and if record shops die out then the only place most people will see music available in public will be the supermarket. Their musical offerings are usually in one aisle, clumped in with DVDs for kids, books for mums, magazines for mild perverts, phones and birthday cards. The lack of innovative sounds is so soul-crushing and bland that it even makes Gary Barlow unhappy.

Those sad and weary eyes...

Anyway, this rant was tangentially inspired by Ninja Tune standing up for themselves. So here's one of my favourite acts from their roster, Jono McCleery.

Andy is a Supajam writer who has had music-based roles at numerous Commerical, BBC and Student radio stations over the last 6 years. He is also a music promoter in the South-East of the UK. He has a website where he interviews musicians with only one question, and he is currently typing in third-person. You can tweet abuse at him if you fancy letting off some steam.