Why I Pay for Music

Browsing through my iTunes library yesterday, I realized something. I buy a lot of music. Using my peers and college friends as an example, I am one of the few people that actually purchases music anymore. It's really an appalling concept these days - everyone's a pirate. Right now you're probably laughing at me, thinking something along the lines of "this guy's a nut... paying for music, pshh." Well, I'll tell you why I pay for music.

College + RIAA

While living on a college campus, students must be aware that everything is heavily monitored and logged. The Georgia Tech Office of Information Technology would routinely send out warnings for copyright infringement when they discovered or outside agencies informed them of such acts. There is a policy along the lines of 3 strikes and you're out. But those are for when the RIAA is feeling nice. Not so to my friend which we'll name Joe for now. Freshman year (2004), the RIAA released their list of subpoenas. Surprisingly several Georgia Tech IP addresses were on this list. Everyone in my dorm hall was interested whose IPs these were so we went around the floor counting IPs (the IPs were sequential from room to room). Two rooms down from my IP was my neighbor Joe's - he was in for a wake-up call. He was cited for 3 counts of copyright infringement. In the end he settled for something over 3,000. A hefty fine for 3 songs. This was back when a college to college p2p file-sharing network called i2hub was still running.

Needless to say, that hit a little too close to home for me. Pirating anything on a college network is risky business. Not only do you have the RIAA on the lookout, but there are campus officials staring at your packets everyday. On an unrelated note, a friend (maybe he'll make an appearance in the comments) got his internet taken away for a month for a network offense. Maybe this is just the locked-down nature of the network at a technical school, but the point remains the same. Paying for music can keep me safe from such prosecution and is literally a small price to pay compared to possible legal/other fees if prosecuted. For example, my friend's dad even offered to pay for all of his music to avoid legal trouble from pirating on campus.

Speaking of the RIAA, they had a campaign a while back where they would find popular downloads, replace them with corrupted files and then redistribute them. This made pirating any somewhat popular song near impossible.


iTunes Makes it So Easy

Excellent file-sharing applications like Acquisition and MyTunes make downloading a trivial task. But even great programs like that require great effort to find the best quality song or albums. Even if you find the entire album via a shady torrent site, it might not be fast, might contain malware or be password protected and make you go to a sketchy site to find the password. All of these make for great cases to purchase music through iTunes or other such applications/music stores. It also helps that iTunes is my all-in-one app; I purchase music from it, play and burn music with it.

Purchasing an album on iTunes is no harder than a quick search and then clicking a button to buy it. It automatically gets integrated into my library so there's no drag-n-drop that you would have when downloading otherwise. iTunes is also like that impulse-buy aisle at the grocery store. If you see something you like in the music store, you can be listening to it the next minute. Even that's hard to come buy with the best p2p program. There's absolutely no guesswork with iTunes. However there are those times when you crave that really oddball song that not even iTunes has. You're left to your own devices in those cases.

As of recently, iTunes has allayed the qualms of those that avoided music downloads since they offered no "extra" content like the little pamphlet in CDs that is generally the first thing people look at after purchasing a CD. More and more often you can find albums on iTunes that come with digitized versions of those archaic pamphlets and now push the envelope with a bonus music video for one of the singles on the album. Now there is actually incentive to go the digital purchase route rather than compact disc or piracy.

iTunes almost has this viral quality to it. Everywhere you go, people and companies are offering free iTunes songs downloads. You can technically download quite a few songs by taking up companies on these offers. Gap had a deal where if you try on a pair of jeans you get a free download. I tried on lots of jeans that weekend. The pen company BIC had a similar offer, but they were looking for survey info I believe. However their system had a bug in it and people in the know got away with hundreds of iTunes downloads. =) iTunes gift certificates are almost valid currency now. Things like this seem to be working as studies show that p2p users are buying more music now.

What about DRM's you say? Yes, even I have fallen victim to that 5 authorizations per computer deal with iTunes. Being the tinkerer I am, I'm always destroying partitions here and there and reinstalling OS X. Of course iTunes treats that like a new computer and when you hit the 5 computer wall you've lost all of your paid-for music. That can get extremely annoying fast. There's always the argument that you can burn your music and then rip it.. but is that realistic when you start talking about thousands of songs? No.

Last week Yahoo! made some noise when they announced that they wanted to distribute DRM-free music, priced slightly higher than iTunes. This is a step in the right direction, unlike what Georgia Tech and other college campuses are doing to slow-down the whole college piracy thing. Some universities are instituting a deal with Napster where students can download as much music as they want but once they graduate, the DRM'd songs will cease playing. That's crap.

The reasons given in the article are not surprising. DRM prevents students from retaining songs after graduation when they must leave the service. Students want to own their music, not rent it. The services weren't compatible with the iPods owned by 42% of students.

Georgia Tech is (rumor has it) in works with Ruckus to provide cost free songs that are also DRM'd to Hades. If iTunes wasn't so damned convenient, I could find myself and my roommates (who am I kidding, my roommates don't pay for anything) purchasing CDs and sharing them in their pristine, DRM-free format.

Supporting the Artist

This is also a key reason for why I buy music. When faced with the decision to buy an album or not, my job is made a lot easier when I'm looking at smaller bands that really could use the money; bands like those featured on PureVolume.

So now it's time for me to ask you. Do you buy music or acquire it through "other means"... and why. Hopefully most of the stuff above made sense, it's more like a structured rant than anything else.