This weekend, NPR Music intern Emily White wrote a well-meaning (and well-written) reflection on her relationship to music — namely, the fact that she never purchased any, given the free and easy access with which she has grown up.
I, too, have purchased little music since my regular trips to the Used Jazz CD shelves at Everyday Music in high school, unless you count pre-ordering a few things through Kickstarter campaigns (the latest of which, Darcy James Argue’s new record, has four hours left and has reached its goal!) In fact, I think the last piece of music that I directly purchased was Argue’s previous album, back in 2009.
But that’s largely because I have had the good fortune of falling into the jazz journalism world, where I am given promotional copies of music for review. Given the excellent stuff that comes across my desk, I am rarely compelled to reach out and buy more.
But this strongly-worded and well-argued rebuttal to Emily’s confessional has me thinking a little bit more closely about the ethics of my music listening habits. And with your help, I’d like to publicly lay out a set of guiding principles for my future listening, and check back later to see whether or not I was able to live up to my aspirations:
1) I uninstalled Spotify, and will never use it to stream music. It seems pretty clear to me that this organization is not interested in being a part of a sustainable solution for artist revenues. Those ads were annoying, anyway.
2) I will only use a file-sharing program to download music that is not released digitally in any form. This is rare, but applicable occasionally to some early jazz and other obscure things that I have needed to track down for research.
3) I will spend at least 1% of my annual income on directly purchasing music or supporting artists in some way financially (such as Kickstarter). This is approximately the same amount of money that I give to the local meditation community of which I am a member. I wish it could be more, but the reality is that my grad student budget affords me almost zero disposable income — and $20/month is the best I can do right now. I will also, whenever possible, make an effort to purchase music through whatever channel benefits the artist most directly.
4) Starting in July, I will review at least 3 CDs per month — either at this blog or elsewhere — supporting the artists who are making great music and are generous enough to send me promotional copies for review by touting their awesomeness for all the world to hear.
Is there anything else that I should include as I consider what principles will guide my listening in this digital age? Am I being too easy on myself here? Too strict? Please share your thoughts in the comments — I’d love for this to be the start of a conversation about what reasonable and ethical baselines can be established for music listeners today, and will add any provisions that are good additions to what I have laid out. Thanks for being a part of the conversation!
UPDATE: Lots of well-reasoned responses to the debate are cropping up — I’d recommend Erin McKeown’s post that stakes out a solid middle ground, and also another Emily White’s defense of the NPR intern’s initial post. Also, David McCarthy’s call for everyone to appreciate the complexities of the situation, and not boil things down to “personal responsibility” arguments, and Wesley Verhoeve’s spirited takedown of Lowery. I agree with all of these, and still hope that the conversation can move beyond name-calling and melodramatic blog trolling towards some small steps that can be taken towards artists making a sustainable living making great music, and actually connecting meaningfully with people who enjoy that music.