Guest Blog: Why I Still Pirate Music

One of the most-read pieces on this site over the last couple of days is entitled “Why I Stopped Pirating Music.”  It generated tweets, likes, comments and more than a few emails.

Malcolm replied with this note.  I’ve reproduced it here with his permission.

As a 20 year old music enthusiast, I both agree and disagree with your post and John’s article. I will first state that as of right now in my iTunes I have 7517 songs, worth 22.3 days and weighing 56.29 GBs. My musical tastes vary from here, there and in between. I will also state of those 7517 songs I will estimate roughly 1500 are legal purchases, 20%.

I began this collection along time ago and am proud to say I listen to about 70% of it on a regular basis. On top of which they are all albums. No single song downloads for the most part. If I had paid for all my music at a mean of 9 songs per album and a mean price of $9.99 for an album my overall cost would be around $8,343.

Lets say for a young man who has worked just above minimum wage my entire life and have expenses every month I can not really afford to pay for all my music. If I did something would have to give in my budget to allow for the increase in entertainment. What would likely have to give up is my love for live shows and playing music.

I was recently asked how many shows I’ve been to in my life and I counted it at around 45 different acts. A lot of which were expensive arena rock shows. For example I have seen Coldplay a total of 7 times over their last two tours. 5 in my hometown of Vancouver and two recently in Montreal. If it wasn’t for the power of file sharing I perhaps would not have downloaded the album that made me fall in love with the band. I have shelled out no less than $100 for each ticket, the highest I paid was $250, all from Ticketmaster. So the band has seen over a $1000 for me as a fan. Similarly with Pearl Jam I have traveled overseas to see them play shows.

I believe in supporting bands, I love music and never want to stop listening. I try my best to buy new albums as they come out. Wrecking Ball and Albatross both came out the same day, two new CDs from two of my favourite bands, it cost me $35. I then spent $75 to see Big Wreck three days later and am getting ready to shell out over $150 to see Bruce live. That is a lot of money and I can tell you that if I were to buy all my music I wouldn’t get to see these bands live.

However, what if I bought a CD and hated it? For example I have been digging Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men on the radio lately, so I downloaded the album and loved it. I bought the album this weekend and am eagerly awaiting a Vancouver date. If i had listened to the songs solely on YouTube I know I wouldn’t have fallen in love with them due to my limited time at home. The question for me as well is what if I hated the album, which was the case for the most recent Red Hot Chilli Peppers album. I shrugged it off as not my style, but if I spent $10 on it, I’d see that as a waste.

These bands whose music I download and enjoy I am more than willing to pay and sometimes miss a morning of work to buy the tickets. I know that when I have more money and disposable income coming in I am going to be more than willing to start paying for more and more music. However for now I buy what I like (especially Canadian content) and attend over priced concert to make up for the money they lose. I don’t whine about expensive tickets because these bands work hard and need to eat like me. I doubt Chris Martin needs another $10 out of me to go buy Mylo Xyloto when I have already spent roughly $1000 on tickets and merch at his shows. Is that a fair trade off? I doubt Vedder needs me to go buy a copy of VS. when I pay $50 a year for fan club membership.

This may have been a bit long and all over the place, but I love your site and posts and felt I needed to show you the other side of the coin for pirating for personal use only. I feel bad until I go to Ticketmaster and the concert.

Thank you for reading this if you did.  Cheers and keep on rocking in the free world,




Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38022 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

17 thoughts on “Guest Blog: Why I Still Pirate Music

  • I have read Malcolm's post with interest though I will say right up front, I disagree with pirating music. Sure a song once in a while from a pal's album for a mixed tape or CD I can understand, but when about 80% of your collection is downloaded for free, I have issues with that.

    I also see the problem as somewhat age-related. I am a rock and alternative fan on the wrong side of 50 who collects his music on vinyl and compact disks, a collection I started before I was 15 years old (records of course). To date, I have not downloaded music from the internet except when I sometimes buy a CD that comes with free (included) downloads. I don't pirate music, use torrent sites and I have yet to spend a cent on iTunes yet because I prefer a physical copy, which only records, tapes and CDs can offer. I do rip files from CDs and albums for my digital library though I seldom use my iPod, and I have two Macs so one is dedicated for music.

    I spent several years as a deejay on college radio in the early 80s and that experience was invaluable expanding my musical knowledge especially in alternative music. Also, I have been paying to see concerts since 1971, and while tickets were dirt cheap then by todays standards, I am paying a lot more now like everyone else.

    I recall in order to get an album some weeks, other expenses were diverted. This usually meant food and other entertainment like movies. I didn't spend a lot on clothes but I always found money for records.

    It's a personal decision and I know I am in the minority on this issue but I am certain my life would have been just fine had Napster never came into existence.

  • I liked an article you posted a few months ago a little better, which could basically be summed up the same as one of this author's points "Wouldn't you rather I got your existing albums for free to check them out and tell my friends and then bought your new ones, instead of you getting none of my money or promotion?"

    However, the "I'm poor," argument has never flown with me. If you're poor, then learn to budget, and don't buy music if you can't afford it, and don't steal it as an excuse. You can survive on the music you have for another week or two while you save up. When I was a kid and the Internet ran a sweet 56k, I saved up my allowance for weeks and then walked my ass to Futureshop an hour away to buy one CD, and then I'd listen to that CD over and over until I could afford a new one. Just because the music is more easily available to steal doesn't mean your justification holds truer.

    I also don't fully appreciate the "expensive concert" argument either. While, yes, you spent $100 on the concert, I'm willing to bet Coldplay got $10 of it. The rest went to the venue, ticketmaster, managers and crew. True, $10 is the price of an album, so the argument that going to a concert makes up for stealing the album isn't totally flawed, but the numbers are deceiving.

  • " I doubt Chris Martin needs another $10 out of me to go buy Mylo Xyloto when I have already spent roughly $1000 on tickets and merch at his shows."

    This is why I steal a bag of carrots every week at the grocery story – I already bought the roast beef and potatoes right? I doubt the grocery store needs another $4 when I've spent hundreds of dollars there already this month.

    "However, what if I bought a CD and hated it?"

    Subscribe to one of the many streaming services and preview it, along with hundreds of thousands of other albums, as often as you like, for less than the cost of one album a month. Not only are you protected from making bad purchases, you are also giving the artists a (very) small amount of money for each listen.

    "Lets say for a young man who has worked just above minimum wage my entire life and have expenses every month I can not really afford to pay for all my music. If I did something would have to give in my budget to allow for the increase in entertainment. What would likely have to give up is my love for live shows and playing music."

    It's not Chris Martin's fault you work a minimum wage job. Nor is it inconceivable that you should have to budget your discretionary spending, we all do. Many people in this world can't afford the album OR the concert.

    The sense of entitlement in this blog post is overwhelming. Your concert ticket (many of which you allude to being overpriced, and thus poor value) entitles you to admission to the concert. It does not entitle you to an unlimited, royalty free, perpetual license to use the author's work in your own home and on your own portable devices.

  • Wow, entitled much? I know I sound like some old fart, but when I was Malcolm's age I didn't get to buy every album I wanted, or see every band I wanted to see. I had to choose what I was going to spend my limited funds on and what I had to do without. Somehow I managed to survive this Dark Age without getting everything I wanted when I wanted it.

    The thing that amazes me about attitudes like Malcolm's, is that at no other point in history has so much music been available to so many people for so little money, and people still contort themselves to pretend that what they're doing isn't theft. Maybe I can swing by Malcolm's place of work and take whatever it is he's selling without paying for it, but explain that I'm doing him a favor by walking through the front door at all.

  • Clearly this is a divisive argument, but there's no need to treat Malcolm like he's entitled. Sure, he's seen a lot of very expensive concerts, and therefore failed to buy some CDs, but that doesn't necessarily make him entitled so much as a lover of live music shows. What's lost on many people from older generations is that kids have grown up with this free access to music; most of us don't actually know what it's like to pay for music, and yes, that may be a sad thing, but it's the truth.

    Now, if you're an avid music lover like myself (I'm 24, I have a library much larger than Malcolm's, review music critically online and am part of a Pop Music program at an Ontario University), you have a need to keep up with the music, to discover new artists and support them in ways that you can. The technology has changed but the music enthusiast havent. If the technology to instantly get records for free was available 20-30 or 40 years ago, just as many people would be jumping at the opportunity to grab or sample the latest record from Dylan, the Stones, Nirvana, Echo and the Bunnymen or whoever else. This generation doesn't lack a sense of morality, as so many commenters seem to connote; rather, they have access to technology that past generations did not. Any avid music fan would have done everything this generation is doing with filesharing if they had the technology back in the day.

    P.S. They actually did – they were called "bootlegs".

  • I can't believe that people actually try to defend their stealing of music. It really is mind boggling the justifications that they use. Be honest with yourself, you do it because:
    – it's very easy
    – chances are very small that you will get caught and even smaller that you will face consequences as a result
    – most importantly, it is socially acceptable. Very few people will be put off of what you are doing b/c you would be considered a dope to pay for it by most people when it is easy and there are no consequences. Everyone calls it downloading because it's a nicer term than stealing.
    Any other reason or defense is so easily blown away that it's laughable. See above for proof.

  • Alan's continued implicit support of theft is truly disappointing and disturbing. You would think that as a person who has made a very comfortable living in an industry driven by copyright and intellectual property might on occasion call out those who use tired, weak clichés to justify theft. Well shame on you Alan Cross… And as far as the company I run, Warner Music Canada your free ride is over.

  • We actually live in a country, and under a government, that doesn't value artists. Saying that artsist/radio thrive from "intellectual property" and "copyright laws" is bogus. The laws have never been stricter and they only benefit labels and other big companies; they restrict artists and their creativity while vilifying certain forms of music (hip-hop, remix, etc.). Handing out free music is one of the few ways artists can gain a following these days and make money outside of the label system. Filesharing has democratized music, made it easier to create and promote.

    Sure, not everything is in line yet and money needs to be better distributed to artists, but that is not the fault of the consumer, but the stingy, stubborn, unadaptable music industry. The old guard needs to see that, but they remain blind to the bigger picture. It's not a simple equation of filesharing = stealing; that's reductive reasoning. The issue is more nuanced and complex than that.

  • @Steve Kane You must have missed the personal article Alan wrote just the other day called "Why I don't steal music anymore" or something along those lines. He posted this article because someone sent it to him as a rebuttal and Alan appreciates open dialogue.

  • Money and ethics have been meticulously intertwined for centuries. In the case of modern music, it's really an issue of the need for a change in business model, a la Tony Wilson and Factory Records:

    "The artists own all their work. The label owns nothing. Our bands have the freedom… to fuck off."

    Thousands of bands are finally fucking off. Hearing them would have been impossible 20 years ago. There's simply too much output now to perpetuate the ruse of the capitalist pop music model. Any artist worth his or her salt has to be content to feed the stream, rather than ride it to riches.

  • @Steve Kane;
    Punishing Alan Cross is shooting yourself in the foot. I don't know of any CEO that would willingly do that. In the last 20+ years Alan Cross has introduced me to more bands, artists, and music than anyone ever. Can any of your PR people make that claim?
    Besides Alan is just exercising his right to free speech.

  • In Canada our government steals levy money on all storage mediums because the music industry isen't stealing enough money out of our pockets these days. I work in the music biz and I was / am a musician. The government forcing me to pay 29 cent levy tax on a blank CD that costs 22 cents is total nonsense. In my opinion you are paying for the music you download by paying these hidden taxes on your storage mediums so I guess in Canada we pre pay for our music and even if we are burning our own content we are still thieves in our governments eyes. So if you pay the levy you have the right to download in my opinion as thats where my money is going. The government and record companies can't have it both ways…….and NO I do not "steal" music. The industry has changed and the songs are more of a commercial now a days to sell the real products like expensive concert tickets , shirts , drinks , shoes you name it. Face the facts and move on the biz has changed and people are still getting rich that are on the band wagon and think out of the box. The record companies are to little to late !!!!

  • @Steve Kane
    Thanks Steve for pointing out just how ass-backward record company execs think. Instead of finding out what Alan thinks (simply by CLICKING A LINK IN THE FIRST LINE OF THE ARTICLE!), you choose instead to slam a journalist for promoting open discussions on the music industry. Ignorance at its finest. Nice.

    All you've done is remove ANY guilt I might ever have of pirating Warner artists. In fact, I think I'll go download stuff now simply to spite you.

    Enjoy riding your company into the ground Steve.

  • Re: " What's lost on many people from older generations is that kids have grown up with this free access to music; most of us don't actually know what it's like to pay for music, and yes, that may be a sad thing, but it's the truth"

    Rebuttal? Counter argument? Or did Kyle F just hit the nail right on the head and everyone is sweeping his valid point under the rug?

  • @ShaunW … Just to be clear Alan did not write the previous entry but merely reported it. I don't believe Alan has ever stolen music he is an avid collector and supporter of artists. However he consistently posts the views of "free culture" proponents as if they were the only side of the arguement . I've shared many glass and meal with Alan …usually on my expense account…

  • Wow Steve Kane. Douchebag much?

  • @SteveKane
    So what you are implying then is, since you've wined and dined Alan (and let's be clear, it isn't on YOUR tab, but YOUR COMPANY'S and therefore YOUR SHAREHOLDERS' tab), he should censor what he reports?

    Again, you epitomize what is wrong with the music industry, and your record label deserves the downfall it is headed for.

    Snowdog summed it up perfectly.


Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.