My thoughts on the NPR intern who doesn’t pay for music.

I just read a blog post today that was put up a couple days ago. It was on NPR’s All Songs Considered blog & was written by one of their new interns, Emily White. Emily was responding to an earlier article about someone who had entrusted their music library to the cloud. As I read Emily’s article I went through a pretty varied range of reactions. 

She started by talking about how much she loves music and how it’s been digital all her life so she never had to transition from physical media to digital. OK, this made me feel old. Not 8-track old, but certainly cassette tape old. She says “I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs.” At this point I’m thinking that the post is about how it’s easier to trust the cloud with your music when you’re not used to it being physical media in the first place. 

Next, Emily says “But I didn’t illegally download (most) of my songs. A few are, admittedly, from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa.” [5th grade? Yeah, now I feel REALLY old! The internet as we know it didn’t even exist when I was in the 5th grade!] She mentions getting some music from her family, and swapping hundreds of mix CDs with friends. Then she says her prom date filled her iPod with 15GB of music. Trading music with friends? This is something that’s been around my entire life. We used to use cassette tapes to record our favorite songs when they’d play on the radio. We’d make mix tapes and give them to friends. Never in the sheer volume she appears to have done it, but it happened. 

The next paragraph is the one that kills me. “During my first semester at college, my music library more than tripled. I spent hours sitting on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop.” Really? You’re so proud that you didn’t illegally download most of your songs, but you don’t think there’s anything illegal about this? Hey Emily, you just admitted to STEALING thousands of dollars worth of music. I’m sure you don’t think it’s stealing because you didn’t take any actual physical property though. 

When I started reading this article and she said she’d only bought 15 CDs in her lifetime I assumed that she was still buying music, just not the physical discs. But based on her stories of how she got most of her music, it appears that no, she’s only ever spent $150-$300 on music, depending on how expensive those 15 albums were. Yet, she claims to love music and musicians. She has stolen tens of thousands of dollars worth of music. 

She says she’s come to “realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love.” but two sentences later she says “I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums.” Emily wants convenience. She wants all the music in the world to be in Spotify. She says “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?” Yes, Emily, it is too much to ask. Sure, Spotify pays musicians, but it is just a tiny tiny fraction of what they can make from album and song sales. If you love a song, buy it. If you love a musician, buy their music. It’s really that simple. And it’s how they continue to be able financially to continue to make the music you love. 

She wants convenience, but buying music from iTunes, or Amazon if you just totally hate iTunes, or CDBaby, or the musician’s own site is easy and convenient. Really, it seems the convenience she wants is to get to keep her money. Yes, getting all the music you want can get expensive. But so can buying anything you want. That’s why we have to make decisions in our life about what we acquire. I want an iPad. I can’t justify the cost of one on my current budget. Therefore, I don’t have an iPad. The same logic should apply to music. 

Now, I’m not perfect. I’m not going to get up on a pedestal and declare that ALL the music in my iTunes library was acquired legally. I’m not sure I know many people who could do that. But, I will declare that MOST of it is legal. I’ve gotten mix discs from friends. Technically not legal. But for every mix disc I’ve gotten I’ve bought at least one full length album I wouldn’t have bought otherwise because of songs & artists I discovered on them. Sometimes a mix wouldn’t have anything I wanted to hear more of, but other times there would be multiple songs & artists I’d go buy. 

If there’s a song or album I want my first instinct isn’t to go to a file-sharing or torrent site to get it for free. No, I will go to iTunes or the musician’s website and I will buy it. 

My impression of Emily is that her first instinct is to grab as much music without paying for it that she can, and if there is something she likes maybe go to a concert or buy a t-shirt or something. Or maybe not. You know, if it’s convenient.

Two final thoughts about Emily & her music collection. 

1) She admits to having over 10,000 songs she’s never paid for. At the current standard average price of a digital download of $0.99/song wouldn’t that mean she’s now admitted to a felony?

and 2) She says that her first semester of college she basically stole copies of all the music the college radio station had. She’s now a senior in college. If it’s the same one, will the college administration bring down any consequences on her? I would hope so. 

Also, how painfully ironic is it that she’s an intern at NPR. The people who say that you can listen for free, but if you like what you hear donate to support them. Looks like she’s got the first part of that down pat. 


2 thoughts on “My thoughts on the NPR intern who doesn’t pay for music.

  1. OOoh, I TOTALLY agree with you! Aside from the fact she makes me feel very old, even back in the day, I saved my money and bought cassettes and then CDs. Sure, I recorded stuff off the radio and shared a little here and there with my friends, but the absolute vast majority of my music was paid for in some way.

    It hits home to me even more now, as a photographer. People always feel free just to scan or copy or download an image and use it how they see fit, but they don’t realize by doing that, they’re taking food off the table for that photographer’s family. Some things are meant to be shared freely, but many are meant to be used to make a living for the creator. Products of artistic endeavor are always tough to be given a fair monetary value. And because most people have equipment that can make a photo or record something, they don’t place as much value on the creation part as they should. They only value the material it’s done on, not the art itself. They don’t take into account that the maker may have had years of expensive study or has to pay business taxes and expenses and pay for insurance and all the other things that go with the creation. So is a CD only worth the laser engraved media it’s recorded on or a photograph only worth the paper it’s printed on? NO. There’s so much more that goes into it but the average consumer doesn’t see it that way. I wish there was a way to really educate the masses about it. But I think it will always fall on deaf ears and blind eyes.

    • I agree. Working in a photo lab I see people all the time who want me to just copy any picture they bring in, and they get offended if I point out a photographer’s copyright stamp.
      I had an ex once who said that photography isn’t art like painting or drawing because anyone with a camera could take the same picture. Just one of the many reasons he’s an ex…

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