Sunday 21 November 2010

Illegal downloading

I need to get this off my chest.

I'm relatively relaxed about illegal downloading of our music. It's irritating that so many people feel they can help themselves to our music, but I'm not convinced that those downloads would convert directly into sales if the internet was magicked away. And the internet has been the tool that we've used to grow the sales of the band, so we've taken the view that you need to take the rough with the smooth.

Our approach in the last few years has been to reduce the temptation to illegally download our music. Therefore, we:
  • keep our CD prices as low as possible and offer 'bundles' in our shop
  • make our music freely available to listen to on streaming sites such as as Spotify and Last FM
  • work with internet radio stations to make our music available via podcasts
  • offer full-length free downloads and streamed songs on our own website
  • try to make our CD's a desirable product (we spend a lot of time and money on design)
  • emphasise our independence from record labels (in other words, if you take our music, you are stealing directly from the musician, not some amorphous record company)
Our hope is that this approach makes a difference and, if our growth in sales is an indicator, then it has. But occasionally, I do find myself getting dispirited. The release of the Far Skies EP has caused me to be especially downhearted.

With Far Skies we wanted to reward our loyal fans who have joined our mailing list over the years. So, we offered the CD ahead of general release to people on our mailing list. There is, of course, a benefit to the band in this approach as many more people have subsequently joined our mailing list, meaning we are better able to target direct sales at individuals in the future (rather than distribute through dealers when we sell at wholesale prices.)

Unfortunately, within just a few days of the pre-orders being sent out, Far Skies started popping up on numerous torrent sites. What really pisses me off is that it is highly likely that somebody on our mailing list took it on themselves to upload our music (the only other possibility is that somebody who received a promo copy uploaded the CD. However, we have sent very few promos out for Far Skies, and none ahead of the pre-orders).

One of the advantages of being in charge of our own label is that we can keep a proper track of sales. For the pre-order of Far Skies we have a spreadsheet which includes the name of everyone who has ordered the CD. The CD isn't available from anybody else at the moment so this spreadsheet should include everyone who has bought the CD so far. I was reading some of the early reviews and ratings of Far Skies on Progarchives the other day and noticed that some of the most recent ratings had been from people that do not appear to have bought the CD.

Now, I have no intention of besmirching these people; maybe they received the CD as a gift, or borrowed a copy from a friend, so there is a reason that they have been able to rate our music without appearing on a database of people who have bought it. Or maybe they are judging it after hearing the music on a podcast or internet radio station; in which case, fair enough I suppose (although passing comment on an album when you haven't got access to the music in an uncompressed format, and don't have the artwork and the lyrics in front of you is a bit rum.) But if any of them has given a rating to the album after downloading the music from a torrent site, now that would be bloody cheeky.

If there is anybody reading this who has downloaded music from us illegally, please visit our shop and think about making a purchase. We are selling 41 minutes of new music on Far Skies for just £6 (which includes shipping), so it's not like we're driving people to the download sites with unreasonable prices.

We are an entirely independent band and everything we earn from the music goes straight back into the band. Listeners should at least reflect on that before taking our music.