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ISSUE 117 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/26/2003

Dare to share

By Jonathan Graef
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 26, 2003

When I read the Sept 19 email from Dean Kneser (which, for all intended purposes might just as well have been called “When You Download Music, You’re Downloading Communism”), I had to laugh at its unintended absurdity.

In the portion of the letter titled “Facts,” the following statement appears: “Many students equate the “illegality” of downloading material from the Internet to driving over the speed limit – it’s OK as long as you don’t get caught…St. Olaf equates illegal sharing and downloading to stealing and it cannot be tolerated.”

St. Olaf’s position on Internet file sharing is undoubtedly influenced by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), as well as other major corporate labels: if you are doing it, then it is the equivalent of walking into a grocery store, putting oranges in your pants, and explaining to the manager that you have a pituitary disorder that makes your knees the size of oranges. Which is to say, you’re stealing.

However, stealing from the RIAA is like stealing from Bill Gates: it probably won’t make a difference. Not only that, but until USA Today reported on Sept. 4 that the Universal Music Group decided to reduce CD prices by 30 percent, the retail-suggested CD price was $18.99 (and probably still is, at the time of this writing).

So the RIAA, and to a lesser extent, St. Olaf, tells me that downloading one song makes me a criminal mastermind, but paying nearly $20 for a CD that will probably have only a few good songs on it isn’t highway robbery? Ironic-tastic!

“But ever-reasonable and devilishly handsome Mr. Graef,” you, the reader, might ask me, “what about artists on smaller, independent record labels who have trouble making ends meet? Won’t file sharing affect them?”

That all depends, reader who is filled with compliments. Indulge me a little bit by listening to a tangent.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of seeing four lesser-known hardcore bands play at the Triple Rock, a small venue in the Cities. Why did I go to this show? Because a friend of mine had sent me a bunch of MP3s of their songs over the Internet, and thus, we shared files!

During the close of one band’s set, the connection from microphone to PA was knocked out, leaving them without vocals. But they played the song anyway, with the vocals coming from those in the pit, screaming their lungs out, perfectly in time with the band. No doubt the crowd got to know the songs by “illegally” downloading them on the Internet.

I leapt from the stage just as the song ended being incredibly impressed, as well as incredibly sore once I landed on my butt. As a result of an intense, heartfelt performance, I became a fan, and bought a copy of their LP (which cost just eight dollars. Eight versus 20, eight versus 20, hmm).

So what does this have to do with file sharing? Apart from hearing those bands via file sharing, it is about loyalty. No matter how one hears about a band, if the band puts out music that is memorable, then people will go out of their way to see them play and support them.

As a result, the “what about smaller artists?” question becomes irrelevant. The bands gave great performances, and I bought an LP (for five dollars), despite the fact that I already have some of the songs on MP3.

Simply put, the record industry is not giving the people bands that play with heart, intensity and originality. They are giving us carbon copies of carbon copies of carbon copies.

I get the feeling that one of the reasons people are downloading music is because they simply do not want to spend money on a record that they know will only have one good song on it.

Some steps have been made to lower prices. Major labels are beginning to charge around $10 for CDs by groups that are up-and-coming, which doubtlessly generates more sales.

The solution is simple. Make sure others follow in Universal's footsteps, so that the 30 percent lowering of prices isn’t just lip service, sign original, ground-breaking bands, and actually (gasp) spend some time and effort developing them so that they can become true artists. (This is not a pipe dream. This was how it was done until something called “the 80s” happened).

Oh, and for the love of Pete, would it kill radio sations to at least play the same 10 songs every day on the radio, as opposed to what they play now, the same five? It is these simple steps that the record industry needs to take to get the consumer loyalty many people desire.

Contributing Writer Jonathan Graef is a junior from Glenview, Ill. He majors in English.

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