“You like Joy Division, try this sleeping bag.”

I don’t illegally download. While most musicians make most of their money from touring and merch, they still make some percentage of money from album sales. Many of the musicians I listen to sell albums in the ten or hundred thousands, not millions. I have copied CDs from friends and when I borrowed them from the library. But, at some point those CDs were paid for. I have friends who are professional musicians or are in bands. It matters to me.

I also have that attachment to physical CDs. The act of going to a store, browsing through the racks, finding what you’re looking for or something you didn’t know you were looking for but are so happy you found. I worked at Borders in the music section, and I loved it for that reason and more. You feel like you’re part of a community. I love the act of opening a CD for the first time and looking thorough the booklet. I’ve learned so much from reading the linear notes. I enjoy seeing much the artist is involved in the recording process, the other artists they’ve worked with, and reading the lyrics.

But, as you know, times have changed. The CD as a medium is slowly dying. I own well over a thousand CDs. I’d say I currently own 1,300 – 1,400. They take up a lot of room in my small apartment. In order to continuously buy CDs, I’ve had to sell CDs, both on eBay and at used CD stores. I’ve likely sold at least 500 CDs. The benefit of downloading music instead of buying the physical CD is obvious here. Personally, I use iTunes. I own a Macbook, and an iPod, so it obviously integrates. Carrying all your music in a Mac or your iPod, one small device, is also simpler and more convenient. I’ve found I interact more with the actual music now that it is in MP3 format. iTunes does recommend other music I might like, but obviously that isn’t quite the same as browsing at a store.

So, this is part of my dilemma. The intangible feelings I get from CD buying, versus the simplicity of downloading MP3s. With Lily Allen’s new album, I downloaded it. The CD version offered no incentive, while iTunes offered two extra tracks. With Morrissey’s new album, I bought the CD because the cover is amazing, and the special edition came with a DVD interview, two live performances, and music video. I also bought the CD version of the Dark Was The Night collection, because the record store had it $2 cheaper than iTunes. But, usually, iTunes is cheaper or at least equal to the CD copies.

Recently I wondered how much more or less the artist makes from download versus CD sales. It really matters to me that artists are making money. And, who better than David Byrne to answer that question. I tripped over this article he wrote on this issue. In it he also discusses why people download versus buying the CD, and the different models of record company/artist relations. It’s a well-written, engaging, and informative article by someone who has seen every side of the music industry first hand. Furthermore, it features 90 minutes of audio conversations he had with other knowledgeable people from the industry: Brian Eno, the cofounder of Merge Records, Aimee Mann’s manager, and Radiohead’s managers. All recommended listening, especially due to Byrne stepping back and letting these people talk.

To answer the question, Byrne states that from a $15.99 CD an artist gets $1.60, while from a $9.99 download an artist gets $1.40. iTunes takes a 30% cut, but the real problem is that record companies have not adjusted for the lack of overhead cost in MP3 downloading. It’s suggested that as contracts are renegotiated in the future, this will change. I did a little more research, and apparently according to this article the emusic.com service is even worse for artists. I’ll likely continue with my case-by-case decision making when it comes to the CD/download debate, and eventually it’ll likely tip towards downloading.

*The entry title is a quote from David Byrne during one of the conversations.

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