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Music Blog: Spotify - friend or foe?

PUBLISHED: 14:10 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:41 29 October 2010

Kingsley Harris

I'm often asked awkward questions about the music industry and in particular the impact of illegal downloading and file sharing. Being a massive music consumer and now running a small independent label, I'm often at odds with myself and find I can come at it from both angles.

I'm often asked awkward questions about the music industry and in particular the impact of illegal downloading and file sharing. Being a massive music consumer and now running a small independent label, I'm often at odds with myself and find I can come at it from both angles. However, I find most people conveniently blinkered and not accepting in the fact that they don't own the rights they talk about.

I hear excuses like, file sharing is not theft because you give it away for free and my favourite: 'If I download it illegally, I'll probably then go and buy it'. Can you imagine that one with car theft? 'It's OK officer, I know I stole this Ferrari but the chances are I'll now go and buy one'.

Basically whether you decide to engage your morale compass on this or not, illegal downloads, file sharing or mass commercial piracy is an infringement of copyright and stealing, your opinion doesn't matter. People do it because they know they stand very little chance of getting caught, not because they believe they are entitled to it.

My view is we now have no choice regardless of what we decide about music downloads. If we rule in favour of cheap download sites such as Spotify then more of these sites will emerge and people like iTunes will have no choice but to change, meaning even less money for artists/labels.

If we rule against these sites being legal then it will just push them underground again and we are back to square one. We've seen the recent furore of trying to take away people's internet access.

So why is Spotify not really a new business model? It's well meaning enough and some would say a step in the right direction. Frankly though this is only a capitulation against something we can't stop.

You could argue that the major labels have embraced it but they do it with the egg of the Napster fiasco of 2001 still running down their face, they know only the bigger companies can win. Spotify and sites like it will see many independent labels drop by the wayside as it picks up in strength, as it will only pay those that can conjure up substantial hits with the small independents supplying the loss leader tracks.

I suppose if I was one of those musicians nursing a few mansions and had a car collection that needed it's own building then I would be saying that file sharing is acceptable and an inevitable business progression i.e. it doesn't seem to be affecting my fat juicy royalty cheque so I'm not bothered. If I was one of those musicians in the middle ground of having been signed and struggling to payback the label's advance then I would be quite frustrated in being an artist of the moment, with most people not wanting to buy my music but happy to have it for free.

If I was in a popular underground band on an indie label I might think it beneficial to bump up my status by giving away lots of free tracks in a bid to get signed.

If I was in an unsigned band with no prospects of getting signed then I'd load every recorded practice, demo and live performance onto as many sites as I could in the abject failure of having no talent.

Whichever way you look at this conundrum one thing is for certain though and that is that the music industry will never die regardless of the knives in its back.

t Kingsley Harris is head honcho at NROne Records and curator of the East Anglian Music Archive.

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