The Internet and the Age of Intangible Music

by: Corey Distler

With new, free recording and conversion software available for download, the copying and conversion of music files gets easier and easier. These programs combined with online sharing programs make anyone with a computer and the internet free to upload or download just about anything they want. This power allows them to download any popular song for free without supporting the recording artist or record label, but it is also what allows independent musicians to create and distribute their music without a large sum of money or a record deal. The availability of free music is undeniable. This leaves the choice of whether to download it illegally or buy it from the artist up to the consumer. Lots of time and effort go into creating a musical recording, even independently, but the subjective value of art makes any one consumer either willing or unwilling to support the person who created it. The price of music is no longer in the hands of the distributers and seller’s. The internet has redefined music production and distribution and turned the music business into an open market where the value of a song is objectively undefined.

Remember buying albums? Before digital recording software, which made home recording a viable option, recording an album generally included a recording engineer, a producer, and a mastering engineer all who worked together to create a final musical product. Before the internet, this product was always manufactured and distributed in a tangible form. Whether it was a record, a cassette or a CD the medium had to be mass produced and distributed by two specialized companies. The internet and digital production effectively cut out these tangible and specialized parts of the chain by allowing a single person to effectively complete all these tasks in a digital environment. Free recording programs such as Wave Pad, Audacity and Kristal can be downloaded onto most computers, not to mention most Macs come with Garage Band already installed.

garage band

These powerful recording tools are capable of producing audio quality previously only found in studios and can create a plethora of file types including high quality WAV and AIFF files as well as Mp3’s and WMA’s which are small enough to be uploaded online in less than a minute. With avid self promotion and dedication a single independent artist or group can inexpensively perform the same tasks that used to take at least five people and a good sum of money.

example of a home recording studio

Despite how cost effective self recording, production and distribution are, once a file is available on the internet it becomes fair game for copying and unauthorized distribution. If you intended the recording or recordings to be free then everything is fine, but if you want to make money from your music then you have a dilemma. Even if you charge money for the download (which you can do), it does not stop the person buying it from giving it to their friends for free; and while you may gain popularity through the circulation of your music, you will not make profit for all your hard work. This is why major and independent labels are so concerned with illegal file sharing. It not only affects the artist, but all of those involved in distribution and promotion of the music. It is this controversy that people who copy and share music don’t take seriously. When copying a song you are essentially stealing business from the creator of that song, but the consumer only sees that they are saving money.

According to a survey conducted by the University of Hertfordshire located just outside of London the average music player contains nearly 50% illegal music. This overwhelming number is proof that people would rather download copied music for free despite the minute risk of being caught. People instinctively like to receive things for less. We often seek out the best deal and take advantage of rebates and coupons, but most of us wouldn’t walk into a store and steal, nor would we buy a photograph and then photocopy it for all of our friends. Without being tangible or having a set price, this new digitized form of media has indefinite value. Art itself is subjective in that each person is affected differently by it. If a specific song or artist moves you, it is your moral obligation to show them that you appreciate what they’re creating. Whether it is by commenting on their music, buying a CD or some merchandise, this appreciation is fundamental in a musician continuing their musical endeavors. By simply copying a CD or a song and uploading it onto the internet you show no appreciation or gratitude to the original creator of the music and the effort they put into it.


Computers and the internet were created to make the management and the exchange of information easier. This digital world is an exciting new frontier, but it brings about a whole new world of moral obligations not yet restricted or enforced by law. This lack of control is both a god sent to independent recording artists and a disaster for record companies trying to protect their clients’ profits from “music pirates”. All we can do as consumers is be conscious of our decisions, whether or not they benefit us financially. By downloading from music sharing programs you support a cyber-community based on immoral grounds that are destructive to the creation and creators of music. FDR once wrote in a speech, “…great power involves great responsibility.” This new tool we have developed opens new avenues, some moral, some immoral, but all new and unknown. In the short time the internet has existed it has become an extraordinarily powerful resource available both to those with good intentions and to those with bad.

Ani DiFranco Talks About Illegal Music Sharing:


This entry was posted in Section 2, Winter 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

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