I'm on a big Jazz music kick lately. I've been rediscovering a bunch of good Swing material but I'm also enjoying the sultry, lounge type of stuff that keeps you in a relaxing, stress-free mood. Last week I purchased the new Norah Jones album 'Feels Like Home'. Her music continues to showcase her wonderful talent and soothing voice. Always inviting, 'Come Away With Me' and 'Feels Like Home' have both been receiving quite a bit of play on my Mac, iPod, and CD player.
When I opened the CD I discovered something surprising instead of what is usually a throwaway ad or catalog of music - a small green paper with the following words:
"THANK YOU!" On behalf of the creators of this recording, we thank you for making this investment and hope you enjoy this music for years to come!"
"Your decision to buy this recording is appreciated by more than 40,000 Canadians who work hard producing and supporting music. Many people - including ARTISTS, writers, musicians, producers, and engineers were involved in the creation of this recording. Music creators are supported by retailers and music distributors, music publishers, manufacturing, record companies, video producers, promoters, and concert touring groups - ALL have a passion for music and a desire to continue to create and deliver the music that you'll want to hear and love tomorrow...Thanks again!"
I don't know if these notes are included in American CD's as well or if they're relegated to record labels like EMI, but I say 'keep it coming.' It's less harsh than the 'stop stealing music' stance and various litigations that seem to abound in the news. I consider this approach to be rather respectful and applaud the record companies for choosing this method.
Of course I've heard Jones' albums before I bought them, so I was making an informed purchase. This wasn't a case of buying an album because you've enjoyed a musician's previous release only to find you like one or two songs on the new CD. And that's where part of the frustration on the consumer's part comes in.
Prices are another irritation. When a CD is priced above $15 Canadian, it's tough for many to pay more than that if you happen to only like a few songs. In turn, many resort to downloading music which, for the moment, is considered legal in Canada. This is due to a court decision and the levy that is tacked onto the purchase of blank media including CD-R's, DVD-R's, MP3 players, and tapes.
There are a few benefits to downloading music. One can find almost any song on many peer-to-peer networks, including whole albums, bootleg recordings, and rarities. For many, it's also free - aside from your Internet Service Provider charges. All you basically need is an Internet connection and enough hard drive space to store the music. If you're online chatting with a friend, and you want them to hear a song you're enjoying, you can send them a relatively small MP3 file rather than transfer a large-sized AIFF file - the standard used on Audio CD's. Certainly online file transferring is more immediate than having to wait and personally give them the CD. For undiscovered or developing musicians, online music file posting is a way to expose more listeners to their music, when they have yet to be given a chance by a production label. For established musicians, it's a little more money in their pocket directly rather than a record company - who may not be giving the artists the marketing or support they feel they deserve.
There's also a few drawbacks to downloading music - most of which can be overcome if you're knowledgeable about the technology and process. If you don't own an iPod or other Portable Music Player, you're stuck with the music files on the computer unless you know how to convert the files for a CD to play on a standard CD player. Although, this too is becoming much easier and many are using their computers as 'digital jukeboxes'. Another negative is that sometimes you may receive corrupt files that won't play properly. Still other times, the song won't even be the one you wanted, having been mislabeled. And if you're a fan of the artwork and having something tangible, then you probably won't receive those.
Companies like Apple are making it easier for people to legally download music in the US and UK with the iTunes Music Store. You can purchase individual songs, or whole albums for very reasonable prices. You'll often receive artwork to go with it, should you want to print the cover and have a hard copy of your music. Apple (and others) are able to do all of this because they have incorporated FairPlay Digital Rights Management into their system. As the downloader from the iTunes Music Store, you must authorize your computer to allow it to play the purchased music. The songs aren't transferable to somebody else's computer unless they have been allowed to play on those computers and even then, only up to a certain numbers of computers. Hackers have found ways to bypass these and other copyright technologies but Apple seems to have a pretty good model that others are trying to follow and music lovers are willing to pay for.
I've purchased a large amount of CD's in the past, many of them soundtracks costing over $15 and I still like to have originals over copies, so I'll continue to buy CD's that I'll enjoy - as long as they're reasonably priced. I know it takes money to produce works of art, and the musicians - like the rest of us in creative fields - earn their living by creating and getting paid. They don't get paid for illegal downloads. But if the prices of CDs skyrocket again, more purchasers will turn right back to downloading. To also keep us purchasing hard copies of the music, the CD must also have the ability to be 'ripped' or digitized and placed on my computer and iPod without problems. If there is some kind of copyright technology that won't allow me the right to choose how I want to play the music, it will go right back to the store. I know others who have returned CDs for that very reason and the record companies have subsequently lost another sale.
As legal music downloading grows and more incentives to purchase music online are introduced, a greater number of people will make the switch. However, many listeners will still want 'something tangible' to hold and so there will always be CD (or other media) sales of some kind - whether it is pre-recorded or recordable. As consumers we'll still purchase music - online or in CD form as long as we're being respected as both a listener and a purchaser. If we're treated or made to feel like criminals by corporate bullies, record sales will drop again and it will only ending up further hurting the recording industry.
For the record: I had no problem ripping both Norah Jones albums onto my Mac.