Online File Trading: The New Abnormal

A conversation I had with a kid a few years ago:

Me: You shouldn’t steal music on the Internet. File trading is going to hurt musicians.
Kid: No it won’t.
Me: Yes it will.
Kid: No way will it hurt musicians!
Me: Believe me, it will.
Kid: The only people who will get hurt are record companies, and they’ve been ripping off bands from the beginning, man!
Me: That doesn’t justify you stealing money from musicians. That only makes you as bad as record companies. Have you ever heard of royalties? Record companies pay musicians royalties.
Kid: Sure, but musicians only make pennies on every CD they sell, while the record labels get buco bucks.
Me: Buco?
Kid: Yeah, buco! Muy buco!
Me: Okay, but when lots of people buy a CD, those pennies add up to dollars. And those dollars can add up to … buco.
Kid: No, man, they’re just pennies! And anyway, there are other ways for bands to make money, like selling merch.
Me: So you believe the answer is for musicians to go into the clothing trade so that you can steal their music?
Kid: No, old man. You just don’t understand how things work these days.
Me: Tell you what. I’ll bet you that in a few years I’ll be able to prove that file traders like you are not only hurting musicians, but are killing the music business, too.
Kid: Okay. Deal.

Guess what, kid. The day has come. A recent survey of 200 musicians by the Web site dizzyjam.com found that less than 5 percent of them now make a living from music. And while 71.8 percent reported that they actually do make some money, it still isn’t enough to live on. A sobering 23.2 percent said they lost money in the music biz.

It gets worse. Just around the time when musicians began to feel the pinch from the demise of CD sales, the worst recession in decades hit the world’s economy like a sucker punch. Bands now earn less money at gigs, evidenced in a recent announcement by longtime MxPx guitarist Tom Wisniewski. He intends to continue working with the band, but the 17-year-old punk-pop outfit’s diminishing revenue stream forced him to find a day job.

“Touring costs have sky-rocketed and companies have limited their marketing dollars,” he said, “resulting in most bands being barely able to cover current road costs.”

Looks like I won the file-trading argument. So why don’t I feel good?