A couple days ago my favorite music streaming website was shut down. Grooveshark had been providing free streaming music for years. It was the only free and legit website that you could stream full albums from. Sadly, a 6 year lawsuit between Grooveshark and major record companies came to a conclusion earlier this month and saw Grooveshark turn off the music forever. Now, there is no doubt that artists should be paid for their endeavours, but is restricting free music sites making the industry money in the long run? I’m not sure.
While the record companies clamour to suppress anyone who tries to make music more available, they are actively hurting their own sales. There is little debate when it comes to intellectual property and how it becomes distributed among the masses in terms of availability. Or, lets put it this way: free ideas and content spread faster than ideas and content that have a price tag. A wonderful documentary about this is Press, Pause, Play. Now, if you click the link, you’ll see that there are four different options on how to get this film. You can download two different versions of it for free, an interactive version and the normal version, or you can buy it from itunes or amazon. You might ask yourself, why would I pay for it if I can get it for free? The answer is more simply than you might think. When it comes to art and ideas people REALLY enjoy they are willing to pay for them, even if the art or ideas can be found for free. Furthermore, the more an idea spreads, the more media spreads the more likely you are to have success in making money with it. For example, take the SmarterEveryDay youtube channel, where a man named Destin has made a living by exploring different scientific principles on youtube. Destin’s videos, like all videos on youtube are free, and because of this many of his videos have garnered millions of views. But it isn’t because they’re free, it’s because his ideas are worth spreading, and because of this he has drawn sponsors, whom he plugs into his videos for about 30 seconds. See, whether you’re being paid by consumers or plugging adds, doesn’t really matter. The point is that ideas that are free–and I think music, literature, visual art, are ideas–spread and attract attention which ultimately translates into some form of monetary compensation.
So, are the record companies right to force Grooveshark to shut down? Under intellectual property laws, I don’t think there is any doubt of that. However, there were many artists I discovered on Grooveshark that I’d never have found without the freeness. I simply don’t have the means to pay for all the music that is out there, however, I do have the funds to pay for the music I really enjoy–and so in the end, I think the record company are hurting their sales opportunities perhaps more than they are helping: with a free service I am more likely to discover new music and so more likely to go to shows, to buy the merch, to spend money on the digital downloads, so I can take the music anywhere I want. But instead I’ll never hear about the next band I’ll fall in love with. So Grooveshark, rest in peace, and please, please don’t apologize.