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.


fleeman said...

I can completely understand your frustration. I must say, your strategy has worked at least in my case (including your pricing policy - who could resist a CD for £6 - and what a great CD). I thought you were crazy putting the whole "Underfall Yard" track out free, but after downloading it I went on to buy the album. Listened to "The Difference Machine" for weeks on Spotify and just had to buy it. I have to admit to a few illegal downloads myself - they are all of albums I almost certainly wouldn't buy. Where I downloaded something I went on to love (e.g. Magenta "Seven"), I went on to buy the whole back catalogue and the remastered "Seven". Sticky area, but hopefully mostly positive, despite the frustrations. Keep it up!

Lorenzo Barbagli said...

Right! As a music lover I try to spread the word about the bands that I love as much as I can with my blog (altprogcore) without giving any link to download sites. I think that if you really love an artist you have to support him buying his stuff.

Since I started my blog I supperted BBT music...and my support will continue on paper in the next month issue of italin Genesis fanzine "Dusk" ( with a positive review of FSDT EP.

Hope this will help to spread the word even more.

Robert Ramsay said...

I have to suppress irritation every time a search on our album turns up a load of torrent sites. But I think that the great majority of the people who listen to our music have a working moral compass. If they don't buy it, it means they didn't really like it all that much to start with. And trying to stop it means a) haranguing your customers and b) sitting in your throne at the shoreline shouting "GO BACK GO BACK".

I normally don't bother mentioning it, as the people who are going to nick it are never going to read what you wrote.

Gregory Spawton said...

I tend to agree, Rob and I've hesitated to put my thoughts into writing. I don't follow the Martin Orford line on this issue (although I can understand his viewpoint.)

Maybe, just maybe, those with a slightly wobbly moral compass can be convinced if the independent bands debate the issue?

I guess most of us are where fleeman is. I've only ever downloaded bootlegs, but I've certainly copied albums on CDR (some of which I've gone on to buy.)Spotify has helped me to sample music and buy in confidence.

Thank you for mentioning your blog, Lorenzo. I've linked to it from the BBT blog.

MatD said...

Hi Greg,

it hasn't necessarily to be one of your customers, who uploaded the torrent. From another branch of industry (software) I know, that the leak mostly comes from the CD manufacturer. There is absolutely nothing you can do against it. :(

I just want to say, that your music is the greatest I discovered in the past 10 years (or even more). Thanks also to the German "Bayblaue Seiten", who made The Difference Machine as Album of the Month exactly 3 years ago. Without that I wouldn't have found you (just to say something positive about raters). But I also know that some of the raters of the BBS are on your mailing list. :)

Keep on the excellent work! Cant't wait for the Age of Steam and even more, English Electric!

Sers, MatD

Steve Dunstan said...

My son was listening to a Coldplay album on the computer the other day. I don't own any Coldplay so I asked him if he was on Spotify or something. 'No, I downloaded it' was his casual reply. He's 9 years old.
How I yearn for the good 'ole days when a new release meant getting a bus down to the (independent) record shop and buying it.

Georg Fries said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Georg Fries said...

I find your post great, as just saying nothing because the crack-kids don't read anyway isn't the best answer too.

Sometimes the words allowed for 1 comment are not enough. I split this^^.

As a private musician I know many stories like yours from developers. Their copy-protection didn't prevent people to crack and steal the software, but occasionally disturbed the users (I searched weeks for a bug for Native instruments and their system - and got nothing in reply^^).
Some noble developers sell their stuff without "hard" copy protection like dongles - they put the username into the reg-file. Probably that can be changed too, but sometimes this way they found out who actually uploaded their work.

That said - I only bought mp3s once in my life. It came from AOL and I couldn't play the files, one from David Gilmour and one from Bob Dylan, due to some strange copy protection.

I never downloaded any CD or song without paying for it - but then, who would say he or she never listened, or listened often, to songs uploaded to youtube...
Like you say, the problem is not so much that a few people steal. Problem is people who of course before it was easy (internet) sat before their radios, waited patiently for hours then recorded songs to tape recorders. Yet int hose times a majority went into a shop and bought the LP. Today there are the majority of bands who start up and even make money with first CDs - and don't pay a penny for their software. Of course if they would sell big, they would hate stealing...
It just is seen as "uncool" to buy, and as we all know, in western societies many things are about "being cool". It affects your sales, of course.

Georg said...

In my case it's like fleeman wrote, a friend played songs from the difference machine at his local radio station and I just bought, directly from you, all CDs available now, and the difference machine I got as a gift. The only reason I don't know the "Bard" is that it is not available any more ;-).

Apart from all that I guess if not enough start thinking about why in western societies "coolness" and a strange wish to follow others dominates - things won't change a bit. Postmodernists everywhere tell you it's uncool to act politically. Well... But if we don't, things around us change anyway... It is not that much different from many of us trying not to pay taxes! As a result the poorer get - poorer. Our societies turn into "65% rich, 35% very poor" ones.
It really is wrong not to mention things like what gets on your nerves. One idea for the future many have now is that all deserve a guaranteed basic income (this comment is far too long to elaborate the idea here^^; rest assured that it would work.). Musicians would benefit like millions of for-ever-unemployed and more from it. No, people wouldn't stop stealing other's works. But the producers had something to live, and from that day on the honest customers would ADD to that basic income. There are many ideas like those, as the problem you rightly mention won't go away any time soon. It is here since 10-15 years, and not many thoughts have gone into this for fear of being - uncool. 65% of people have far more money than people in 1970 - and yet many steal all music they listen to. Pale-faced fragile egos dominate us! Well, no ;-))). But maybe you know what I mean.
And keep up the great work, I love the EP!

Jonathan McKernie said...

To put a positive spin on the things you have done ie the low prices, the bundle deals, the friendly correspondence etc, they do work!
I am living proof of that, and have bought several titles from you for those very reasons. There's a heck of a lot of music out there, and a finite amount of cash, but the things you do have sent sales your way that may well have gone elsewhere.
None of that addresses the thorny issue of illegal downloads, but it does lend support to your way of doing things.
Keep it up!

AliceY said...

I can understand how annoying it must be to see what you've produced with so much creativity, care and hard work appear all over the net for free, and then being reviewed and rated by people who didn't pay a penny for it. I really love your music and, personally, would be happy to pay several times the price of what you currently sell your CDs for- which I've always found quite shockingly low! These past two years BBT has risen to the top spot among my favourite bands (and I listen to a lot of prog), and I try to promote the band to friends and acquaintances as much as possible. However, the truth is that many younger people these days download pretty much all of their music from torrent sites and don't have any sense that what they're doing is wrong. Unfortunately, I can't see that there's much one can do about the illegal downloading problem... Oh, and Far Skies Deep Time is brilliant; I can hardly wait to hear English Electric and the re-release of Age of Steam!

jim said...

I agree with most of the comments above. I'm particularly with Alice, with her sense that lovers of independently produced music such as BBT don't have to be passive consumers. We can help promote music we love through our own networks - a win-win approach for band and fan alike, since doing what we can to spread the word helps these musicians carry on both financially and creatively.

Colin P said...

Although it's frustrating, I doubt you lose many sales through illegal downloading. If you create a fan, as in my case, they are likely to buy your back catalogue. The free download of The Underfall Yard made me do just that. It's little different in the writing field. I've seen so many of my stories turn up on torrent sites and even in foreign magazines without a penny coming my way. But in the end, if I make a fan maybe it's worth it. Let's be honest, anybody who listens to FSDT and doesn't become a fan is never going to become a fan (and is an idiot). Colin P Davies

Markus said...

I'd just like to second what freeman and Jonathan said. Your strategy works perfectly with me and obviously others as well. Of course there will always be some black sheep and I understand your occasional doubt whether you're on the right track. I think you are.

Looking forward to AoS and EE!

Jacques Duraques said...

for independent bands, the internet is a great opportunity to reach the fans in the whole world. i also think, that your strategy is working very well! nice contact, fair prices and very good music. i doubt, that there are bigger losses due to illegal downloads. the most progressive rock fans are collectors, they want the hardware, a nice booklet. they are really interested in music and they enjoy paying money for cds, concerts... the people who download your songs, probably also download many many other songs from other artists. i don't think that they would buy your cd if they have not the chance to download this one illegal... just my two cents..

Frank said...

I played the new EP to a friend at dinner last night and he ordered before I had left. If I had played it for my nephew, he likely would have looked for a download, but with the volume of music he listens to he probably would only play a couple of times. So the question is whether you grow sales over time from the illegal downloading. I think you have done all the right things and managed the Internet as well as any band out there today.

Anonymous said...

legally ro illegally, i can't find any way to acquire your two demos. this saddens me.... :-(