Thank You for Being Our Fans, Please Keep Stealing Our Music

20 April 2010

NFG My little sister is only 7 years younger than me, but sometimes it feels like a whole generation.  (More on the generation gap.)  Never was this more apparent than when we stood together at the New Found Glory concert in San Francisco last month.

Music Coming of Age at the Turn of the Century

New Found Glory, or NFG for short, released their first full-length album in 1999, just as Napster was entering its short-lived heyday.  This band grew-up in the era of file sharing.  Not the band members, but the band itself.  Between 1999 and 2009, while Napster, Grokster and Aimster all came and went, while RIAA lawsuits against file sharers were filed and settled and won in court, NFG released six albums selling well over a million copies total and bringing in plenty of dollars.  (Three of the albums were certified Gold.)

San Francisco, the stage at the Regency Ballroom, the band has paused in between songs and the band members are thanking their fans for a decade of support.  “Thank you for downloading our songs!”  “We won’t tell you not to download music because we do it ourselves.”  “We don’t care if you’re paying for it or not, just that your listening to it.”  The thank you’s went on, thanking the fans for burning cds from their friends, for sharing with each other, for nearly every possible way you can think of getting music for free.  Then, as an afterthought, the bass player says to the lead singer, “and buying.”  “Oh yeah, and thank you to those who buy our albums, too.”

My sister was cheering and bouncing around with the rest of the madness that is young twenty-somethings at a rock concert.  I was standing in shock, my mouth gaping open, the wheels in my mind turning as a time line of the past 10 years floated past.

The Old Guard

Before this concert, I knew little about NFG.  In fact, all I did know was that they are one of my sister’s favorite bands.  How different this band and this concert were from the one my sister and I usually see together, a favorite of both of ours: Metallica.

Anyone familiar with copyright or the history of file sharing, regardless of their musical genre preferences, knows Metallica.  The legendary band that ruined the lives of college students everywhere by bringing a lawsuit against Napster.  Or at least, that’s the folklore.  Metallica brought the first suit against Napster.  But that suit actually settled.  The suit that brought Napster down was filed by A&M Records, A&M Records Inc. v. Napster, 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001).

Many people were angry with Metallica.  I was proud of them.  I was in college when Napster was in full swing.  I was in college when Napster was shut down.  I was probably the only one in my college who was glad when Metallica brought that first lawsuit.  In my mind, big, high profile superstars like Metallica were the only ones that stood a chance in the fight against Napster. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, my awareness of copyright was more acute than it ought to have been.  I was convinced that Napster had to be illegal and tried to convince my friends.  Either they didn’t believe me - “It can’t be illegal because it’s there.” – or they didn’t care, “Bands don’t see any of the money from an album sale anyway.”  In my mind, the lawsuit vindicated me; “I was right all along,” I thought.  But there was so much I didn’t understand, didn’t know, about the technology, about the music industry, about the sweeping changes already in progress.

The Shift Goes On

The changes of the music industry structure in the past twenty years are too detailed to go into here.  A&M was gone even before a decision came down in its lawsuit against Napster.  (History of the end of A&M.)  Suffice to say, file sharing couldn’t have been responsible for its death. 

Still, no one will deny the profound effect new technologies are having on the entertainment industries.  There are constant fights between guardians of the status quo and vanguards of the new business models. (Example.)  And bands are showing less and less support for the war-raging tactics previously promoted by the industry.

New Found Glory’s support of its music-stealing fans isn’t the only example of change.  Earlier this year, Bruce Springsteen asked to have his name removed from an ASCAP suit.  That suit had nothing to do with new technology or file sharing, but it shows the same reluctance to fight against those who enjoy the music.

The statements made by these artists exemplify a shift in the music world.  A shift that has already changed how the industry operates and how fans interact with their music.  A shift that is still rumbling.  I wonder what the bands just starting out will say to their fans ten years from now.


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