I have stolen music. A massive amount of music, in fact. Over the past decade or so, I have illegally downloaded hundreds of songs from various file-sharing networks. Even thousands, most likely.
In the past couple of years, however, I have completely stopped stealing music as my listening habits shifted from album-based listening to services like Pandora and Spotify. The painful irony here, however, is that recording artists and music labels earn far less money from me now that I have gone legit than they did when I was a thief.
Before I elaborate, let me first note that I am very pro-artist. I have family who work in the music industry, I have friends who work in the music industry, and I myself considered a similar path at one time.
With that out of the way, an explanation:
When I was younger, in school and basically broke, I stole plenty of music. Services like Napster and Kazaa made it all too easy. If I heard a new song I liked on the radio or at a party, I would make a note and then go home and download the full album illegally.
Here is where my listening habits diverge from most music thieves.
Once I obtained a new album, I would listen to it once or twice. If I still liked the album, I would purchase it. If I didn’t like it or didn’t feel the need to add it to my collection, I would delete it.
This might seem bizarre or even crazy, but I love music. I need new music constantly. The fact of the matter, however, was that I simply couldn’t afford to buy all of the music I wanted to listen to, so the easiest way to hear all of this new music was to steal it.
I’m not proud of this. Not at all. But it happened and now I’m coming clean.
As I grew older and had more money to spend on music, I found that my listening didn’t change very much. I would still download albums illegally and either purchase them or delete them based on my feelings after a preliminary listen. The only difference at this point was that I began to make purchases more frequently. Instead of buying one or two albums each month, I would buy six, seven or even 10.
Habits are difficult to kick, and I went on this way for years until services like Last.fm and Pandora popped up. Rather than constantly seek music out, I let Pandora do the heavy lifting for me. But at this point, I started to get lazy. Why purchase music or even download albums illegally when I could just sit back and let Pandora constantly throw new music my way?
And then came Spotify. Why on Earth would I buy music now that I’m able to save any albums I want on my computer?
I started slowly with Spotify, sticking to the free service option. This let me stream songs on demand on my computer, and then I would just use Pandora or listen to music I already owned on my smartphone.
Eventually I ended up getting a free media account that lasted for a couple of years, and then I upgraded to Spotify’s paid service option when it expired. At that point in time, the rate at which I purchased albums dropped to almost zero, where it has remained. I now subscribe to Pandora and Spotify, and that’s really all I need.
For years as a thief, I was spending $700, $800 or even $1,000 annually on music.
Now, I spend $13 each month.
I was an outlier in terms of my specific listening habits, but the issue remains — and it will grow more severe with time. We’re already seeing slowed growth in overall digital music revenue according to IFPI, and Nielsen said that digital download revenue fell 5.7% in 2013 while streaming music consumption grew 32%.
If there was still any question as to why the music industry has fought streaming services as hard as it has, this is your answer.