Music piracy never died. The opposite is in fact happening, as earlier this year the group MUSO reported that music piracy increased year-over-year
. Yet there are stories that say how streaming music and the availability of services like Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music are killed the need for piracy
. Notsomuch. These platforms are indeed successful and are pushing people towards paying for music but they alone are not causing music piracy to decline.
This week I wanted to skirt around the topic of piracy is because I think it offers a glimpse into what will be future concerns about the health of music streaming, once these services start to reach peak users in large markets like the United States. The other reason is that conversations around piracy remain interesting to me, because it re-frames an issue of record label greed against the consumers. That people soured on the record industry in the late 90s and early 2000s in retrospect makes perfect sense as its hard to have a billion dollar industry sue and attempt to take down its customers ever be seen in a positive light.
Yet, what exactly does piracy mean in 2018? That’s kind of the fun part of internet piracy in 2018, where at one point it meant sites like Napster, BitTorrent, or an endless number of file-sharing sites. Right now one of the biggest ways of music piracy builds directly on top of legal streaming services. YouTube and SoundCloud rippers are highly popular ways of getting access to music, because one can just plop a link to get back an MP3 that is now theirs, can’t be tracked, and can proliferate in endless ways. I mention that it can’t be tracked, because of the awkward trade-offs the music industry made in surveillance music streaming is that the value of a listener is either through direct subscription payment or through tracking every song stream and using that contextual data to sell advertisements. This in turn makes an MP3 a direct challenge to this particular model.
Earlier this year the Bronx rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie put out a number of songs on SoundCloud. They weren’t released anywhere else, though obviously one could find them on YouTube, and I decided I didn’t want to chance he just one day pulls them from the service and went to a SoundCloud ripper to make copies. A few of these tracks are my most listened to music of the year but there is no way SoundCloud or Atlantic Records, A Boogie’s label, would know that.
Where in the early 2000s record labels and artists could make an impassioned plea for music fans to not simply avoid putting money in the pockets of their favorite artists by not buying a CD. That doesn’t quite hold up as well in 2018. Artists constantly complain about just how little money they make from music streaming and the fact is a fan the connection between my money and the artist is painfully abstract. Either my subscription payment is going to Spotify, placed into a giant bucket, and then a little bit is given to my favorite act. The other option is that Spotify, YouTube, or whoever is using all of the data they have on me to better target ads that hopefully will appear with my favorite artist’s content and they may receive some small cut of that money. The two options show just how abstracted the fan to artist relationship is in 2018.