With all the talky talky about music piracy going on lately, I thought I would write a few thoughts about my views on the matter as a pop music blogger.  It's been something that I've been thinking a lot about lately.  I have been pondering how I myself have contributed to the out-of-control problem and what I have done to help promote music sales over the last three years.  In a lot of ways, I don't actually feel sorry for the music industry.  In the corporate world (a world in which I still belong to), if someone invented a way to take your product for free – the company would be all over it like a bad rash…but why does the music industry still bitch and moan about it – it's been going on for years, ever since Napster was invented…it's time to take responsibility dear music industry and own up to your mistakes…I'm not expecting everyone to agree with me – that would be silly – but for me, talking about the problem can only help alleviate it.  My opinion may not count for shit, but hey, it's the way I feel and if you're at all interested in reading this, then read on.  If not, then hey – that's totally cool – you can leave me a nasty comment.  And do know, this is only the opinion of myself – not any artist or musician that may appear on the pages of EQ…

Everyone Downloads Music For Free

Everyone whose ever said "oh I never illegally download music" is probably lying.  If you own a computer, have a decent internet connection and have half a wit about you – you know how easy it is to search for and download something for free.  It's time to admit that you've took something for free that was given to you, either by a friend, online pal, record company, artist or someone whose publicly posted something on a download site like Rapidshare or Zshare.  It doesn't make you a thief, it makes you recipient of something that was given to you for free.  Like when you go to a store and they give you a free sample.  Or when you are on the street and they hand you something like a free chocolate covered Rice Krispy treat.  You don't say no (for the most part) – that would be impolite. 

As a music blogger, I get about 20 download links sent to me every day.  Some of them are authorized by the artist or PR company, some of them are links that friends send me and some of them just are heads up from random people I don't even know.  Depending on my level of excitement about the link, I may delete it or download it – and that usually works out to be about 50%.  Sometimes by the time I actually get around to downloading it, the link has been deleted due to a copyright violation and hey that's fine.  Do I think that's wrong?  No.  I'm told that I'm not supposed to think like that – that it actually hurts the music industry and artist because I haven't actually bought the product that the artist has put their blood, sweat and tears into.  Well, that's totally understandable to an extent. 

But what happens if you pay for the product and it's about 10% good and 90% shit.  If you've broken the plastic wrap on the CD you can't return it like a dress or a suit, so you're stuck with it until you eventually flog it off for half the price on eBay to someone who may appreciate it more than you.  Last time I checked, iTunes didn't except returns for shit tracks you've downloaded – you are simply stuck with it and no one is going to contact you later asking if you're happy with your purchases…My point – don't feel bad about downloading something for free.  But if you really like the artist and support everything they do – make sure you're the first in the queue to line up and buy that physical product as soon as it comes out.  Don't be a cheap bastard.  Put money away for your music purchases – make a list of all the cds you really really want and go buy them when they come out, regardless of whether or not not you've already downloaded it on Rapidshare.  I've already downloaded Madonna's "Celebration" and when I get paid, I'm gonna go buy the fucking CD and DVD set because I want it.  But I don't feel bad that I got to listen to it before I got paid…

Artists and Record Companies Need to Get More Creative – The Retail Music Store NEEDS To Change.

Do you now how many more CDs I would buy if it meant I actually got to meet the artist and say hello and have them sign it?  I would probably never illegally download music if it meant I got to have my picture taken with Kylie Minogue or Depeche Mode.  People who buy CDs should be rewarded for being loyal customers shouldn't they?  I mean the more Costa Coffees I buy, I get one for free every once in awhile.  Does that ever happen with iTunes?  No.  As a die hard music fan, I NEVER get rewarded for my physical CD purchases – I've dropped thousands of dollars and pounds on music and have never received a thank you from anyone involved with the creation of that product. 

But just think about this – if the artist and management actually worked a little bit harder to promote physical CD sales and spent a day or two  (or maybe a week) signing CDs for people who actually bought them, that would certainly result in more CD sales wouldn't it?  Or perhaps your physical CD purchase gets you into an exclusive gig by the artist with a meet and greet.  No CD – no entry.  You can bet I'd be all over buying Shakira's new CD if it meant I got into a special 30 minute performance at HMV on Oxford Street.  Can you imagine?  But what happens is this – the artists just show up for special HMV performances and loads of fans turn out in the record shop, some may even steal CDs while they are there because it's so packed and no one will notice – they do a free show and maybe sell a hundred CDs when 1000 people show up.  The other 900 are out there illegally downloading the CD…It doesn't matter how many cds you sell on the day – it's about rewarding those who actually bought it and have supported you.

Now I'm not stupid.  OK, you may not be as popular as Ricky Martin, Lily Allen or Scissor Sisters for that matter, but if you are an artist of that caliber and you're complaining about lack of CD sales, then there is a solution for you – reward your fans.  And for those of you who aren't as popular as those huge artists and have to earn fans the hard way – start busking!  I'm not talking about opening your guitar case, heading out into the cold streets and begging for change.  What I'm talking about is get your ass in the record store and beg to play there all day to anyone and everyone who will listen to you.  Sell CDs while you are doing that.  It often baffles me why every time I go into HMV – I NEVER see artists there?  Why?  When I go into a record store, I want to discover new music.  I want to learn about what's hot, whose on the up-and-up and maybe catch a free show and meet the artist if I'm lucky.  If I like what I hear, then I will buy the CD.  It's kinda like when you go to a market…you walk around looking for something that tastes delicious and exotic and tempts the tastebuds, but how are you ever gonna know about new foods or products if they aren't there in front of your face – telling you they are rather fucking delicous?  Let's get the new artists into record stores – it should be like a mini-festival there everyday!  Am I talking bollocks or does it make sense EQs?  If the record store wasn't this boring, tasteless array of top 40 shit, Goonies t-shirts,Twilight posters and video games, then maybe I would go there more and buy more product.  The retail experience has to change in order to make the process of buying physical product more exciting.  Sure I may just pop in the record store to buy an Alphabeat CD, but if I leave with a few promos, download cards and a magazine of what's new and exciting and got to meet a few of the artists that were playing there that day, then that's you can bet I'll be back there more often instead of trying to get it for free online.  The more exciting and interactive the record store gets, the more ker-ching you hear.  Why did I go and buy the new Frankmusik CD?  Because that guy worked his ass off, playing in people's bedrooms and actually met a lot of his fans and that made me feel like I had to buy his CD – he earned it.

Let's be honest, artists are very rarely in the record stores these days.  If they were, I'd be there.  I don't want to hear excuses – this would work.  Rough Trade Records kinda has the same mentality. If Fopp would have worked harder and actually got tons more artists down there to perform or sign CDs all day, then maybe just maybe most of their stores wouldn't have shut down.  The concept of the record store need to change.  I expect to discover at LEAST five or six new artists there every time I visit HMV.  Not just randomly see a CD on a shelf and take a chance on buying it, hoping that it's good – but by actually "experiencing" the artist first hand.  That my friends – is REAL social networking.  If I could move EQ Live into the record shop – I'd do it in a heartbeat.  Someone hire me please to do that job full time – I'd have artists, music fans and new customers in the record store all the time – we aren't talking about the flagship stores as well, we are talking at the smallest record shop to the largest – the artists need to be there, performing and selling their CDs to their fans and new ones.  Maybe I would actually buy a Girls Aloud CD if it meant I got to have two seconds with Nadine and have my photo taken with her…think about it.  And we wonder why live music sales are going through the roof – it's a chance for interactivity.  Now if a person actually bought the CD and bought a top-teir concert ticket and a program – shouldn't they be given the chance to actually meet the artist themselves, if not a few days before or after the show?…It's called customer loyalty – it should be rewarded.

PR Is And Will Always Be King – Blogs are buzz-makers

Dear artist – you can't do it yourself.  You can create your own CDs and perhaps your own label but when it comes to your PR budget – don't be a cheap bastard.  You should be spending as much money as you possibly can on having your PR team get you into the few magazines that are left, on popular music blogs, on the radio, on the music channels (they still exist in the UK), in the record store, on showcase nights and at as many opportunities to get you in front of the public as much as possible.  If you aren't out there, you probably won't succeed.  You can't be lazy here and expect your CDs to sell themselves or expect Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga or Madonna's team to discover you.  Get your product done first then get a good PR team to represent you.  Now, there are a lot of shit PRs out there – I should know, but if you really believe in one firm and want them to represent you – you need to get them on-board.  They may pass on you and they have the power to do that, but if you're good – a good PR team isn't that hard to find.  This may sound like totally elementary to anyone in the music biz but you'd be surprised at how many artists ask me, a music blogger, for advice. 

Why did Lady Gaga make it to number one world-wide?  It was because she was on every pop music blog (including EQ) for months before "Just Dance" was released.  She worked HARD and talked to anyone and everyone who would listen to her.  Not every artist can afford this sort of gorilla publicity but the point is – get a good PR team behind you who believes in getting your CDs sold and believes in getting you out there in front of people.  Press releases alone do not sell records, most press releases and the cds that accompany them end up in the bin.  Music bloggers are real people, real music fans with a voice, some bigger than others, but this is where the buzz starts – a record company won't even look at you now these days unless there is some sort of movement or buzz around you – so get out there and talk to bloggers and tastemakers to help you create that initial buzz.  Some music bloggers are wankers though, so just be a little bit careful and mindful…you're PR team will know which ones are good ones…

In Summary…

Let's all stop moaning about how piracy is killing the music industry.  Until the government start shutting down ISPs and canceling accounts of those that are giving away music for free to the masses, then thousands of people will continue to download music for free.  Artists, management, labels and PRs need to get their artists into record stores and/or any place that the public can discover them for free.  There is a SERIOUS lack of this for new and established artists.  It's time to be more creative, ambitious and innovative with how you showcase and how you reward those that actually buy your physical CDs.  Get a good PR team on board and don't take no for an answer if you want to work with a particular one.  I have quite a few good recommendations.  Ultimately, if you are a great artist, then there is no reason why you shouldn't be selling CDs – you can't blame those that downloaded your music for free – that's like saying "fuck you for listening to my music".  You can't blame those who have pushed technology forward (iTunes did not kill the industry).  You can only blame the music industry itself for sitting idly by for ten years and not doing enough work to promote their roster while it the industry ate itself alive.  This whole debacle is a result from a lack of imagination, a lack of ambition and a lack of hard-work.  Not for a lack of great music though – there is an abundance of that and only a sliver of artists and the people around them are getting it right.

As a music fan, you have a chance to be more vocal about what you listen to.  Follow the bands you love on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter and tell them they need to come to you.  Go out and support them, buy their CDs and let them know that what they are doing is great.  If they can't make any money from their CDs then at least they know that the music they make puts a smile on your face – and that DOES mean something because if you like it – chances are someone else like you does too and that artist needs to know who you and they are…

And if you can't afford to buy physical product due to whatever reason (ie: shit economy, massive child-care bill, rehab, what have you…) take one minute out of your day to blog, tweet, write on an artist's wall, or contribute to a fansite.  It's stuff like that helps generate buzz for music which in the end, is helpful to the artist.  If you are downloading stuff and not paying for it – at least do the artist a massive favor and tell the world how great they are and make sure you see them live.  

And artists – appreciate your fans more.  They can make or break you.  Word of mouth advertising is the best advertising there is.  It doesn't take much from you to make a fan for life (ie: an autograph, a free show, a 60 second conversation, a flash of a camera) – don't get caught up in the "I'm a celebrity" bullshit – that can come and go faster than I can say "one hit wonder".