I Don’t Pay for Music Anymore (Legally)

I grew up with 45s and LPs, not having my first cassette tape until I was in the seventh grade (which was either Van Halen’s 5150 or Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry). I didn’t have anything close to an “MP3″ — that would have been a dream come true. You could argue that the audio quality from a record is vastly superior to that of the average compressed audio file, but I don’t think that anybody would suggest that grooved discs are portable or capable of surviving an hour in the back seat of your car during summer. Every single delivery format has its benefits and drawbacks.

When I first heard of Napster, I didn’t quite get it. Here sat a veritable treasure trove of downloadable music — but it didn’t really cost anything to get. When I was in college, I had to scrimp and save and sell old cassette tapes to buy new CDs. I knew the value of an album, as dictated by storefronts, artists, and the industry. What once cost me $15 to attain simply couldn’t be free today. The value of a classic set of songs from the ’70s hadn’t shifted, right?

I’ve certainly spent a fair amount of money on music formats over the years.

I’d soon catch wind of nightmare-inducing digital music organizational issues: mistagged files, inconsistent bit rates, haphazard directory hierarchies. Whether attained from external sources or ripped locally, keeping those files in order just didn’t seem like a very productive use of time. Gaining access to them at any given moment wasn’t exactly easy to do back then, either. It’s difficult to imagine a day when we didn’t have near-ubiquitous wireless Internet access, isn’t it? Even if you had your digital music on a single player, you were still largely limited by capacity.

When the iTunes music store first launched, I didn’t think much about the idea. The convenience was there if you were starting from scratch and wanting to live in Apple’s world — but I wasn’t, and I didn’t. Why would I care to be tied to a certain set of computers and devices? It was still easier for me to walk across the room and pick up a physical item to spin. That wasn’t convenient, either. Nirvana, to me, would be a music subscription service that would allow me to listen to whatever music I wanted to listen to whenever I wanted to listen to it — pre-organized, accessible, and legal. Nevermind?

I was truly elated when Microsoft (in conjunction with MTV) announced Urge through the freshly-launched Windows Media Player store. Despite DRM integration, at least I didn’t have to jump over hurdles to get it to work with my various PCs or portable media player of choice (not an iPod). I could listen to pretty much every album I wanted to hear — point, click, play. Yeah, I was quite content to pay a reasonable monthly subscription fee for this service. It was like buying one new album every month and getting access to hundreds. I’m a huge music subscription service fan.

Urge melted into Rhapsody after Microsoft dropped the ball with its strategy (in the Zune timeframe), and my account migrated. I continued to pay the company — on top of paying a satellite radio provider for easy, quality, serendipitous content access away from home. Pandora slipped onto the scene, and… worked well enough on the desktop. I didn’t pay for a Pandora One account until it seemed I needed to do so in order to get the service to work with a dedicated Internet radio device.

When I started leasing my current vehicle, Bluetooth audio was finally a possibility — and, in conjunction with my iPhone, associated apps, and wireless 3G connection to the Internet, I was finally able to listen to darn near anything I wanted to listen to (darned near anywhere). It was good enough. So, why was I paying for satellite radio service if I already had something similar enough in my pocket? Earlier this year, I dumped XM — and it’s been begging me to come back ever since.

Then, I realized I didn’t need to pay for a Pandora account to gain access to its music library. Sure, I’d have to sit through a spoken ad or two, but that didn’t seem like too much of a trade-off. Lower audio quality? I don’t think my ears could ever hear the difference.

Then, Spotify launched. I had a three-month trial. Why was I paying Rhapsody, again? Exactly. It was a frictionless switch for me — given that I didn’t generate any reasonable number of playlists with my Rhapsody account. When my premium Spotify trial lapsed, I fell back onto the free service — which works much like Pandora does. From the desktop, I can listen to almost any album I care about (so long as I’m willing to put up with an advertisement or two). Hey, if that’s the company’s business model, and the music companies are playing in tune… who am I to argue?

I Don't Pay for Music Anymore (Legally)I still have a few MP3s somewhere on an NAS system at home, but I rarely ever look. I use either Spotify or Pandora from the desktop for free, or Pandora for free on the go. I’m not paying anything to listen to my favorite music tracks or genres anymore. I don’t need to, and I don’t feel guilty about it because parts of the industry are playing along. Is the experience a perfect one? No, but it never was for me. Do I still buy albums? Rarely. Will I go back to paying for access? Possibly.

You might wonder why I didn’t bother to bring up YouTube in all of this? Well, because it wasn’t always on the up-and-up. I like playing by the rules. It’s not just about doing what’s convenient — it’s about doing what’s right. You pay someone for their work if they’re asking to be paid in some capacity. I’m giving up my time in exchange for ad impressions, much like you’re giving up your attention to read this article that’s being supported by advertisers on our site.

I’m not paying for access to music that I’d like to hear today. It’s legal, it’s expedient, and it’s everywhere.

Article Written by

Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.

  • http://twitter.com/AaronEngland Aaron England

    Chris, What are your thoughts on Google Music? Twitter.com/AaronEngland

    • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

      It’s cute.

  • http://twitter.com/yourguide yourguide

    Chris… I’m sure you know about PandoraJam? … but then comes the guilt again. :)

    • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

      Never heard of it. :)

  • http://twitter.com/vyperx1 VyperX

    Why don’t you just use Grooveshark? It’s better than Pandora, since you can listen to entire albums, plus you can offline songs on the iPhone app..

    • http://chris.pirillo.com/ Chris Pirillo

      It’s not quite above the water yet.

  • Matt

    I loved your video on this, and the article’s pretty good too. I totally agree with your opinions. Pandora was great, and then spotify came out. Now I can listen to what I want, and if I need to take it on the go, just use pandora.

  • Dave Browning

    I agree.. I’ve still have a massive library of MP3′s but just love the vast library of Pandora!

  • Ralph

    I listen to Spotify, feel guilty, send money to Rolling Stone and Capitol Records.

  • http://twitter.com/9mmtylenol Jesse Watson

    Well with a subscription, you have to stream (from my understanding) and everyone might not have that bandwidth. Also if you have mediocre internet and it cuts off your stream dies and entertainment might be a while until the connection has re-established. I believe buying the actual media files “ala-cart” and having them readily available on your hard disk is the way for me, as it has never let me down.

    • Mtkupp

      Jesse, a Microsoft Zune pass ($9.99/mo or $99.99/yr) allows you to download albums to you computer or phone. They will also play on Zune devices, which are no longer being produced. It’s not available in all countries (yet).

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/lanceheiskell Lance Heiskell

    The one term I would like to see more in our generation is patronage.

    I support the artists. I also mainly listen to non-mainstream/indie
    lo-fi music.
    Instead of Amazon or iTunes, I usually buy from the artist’s sites directly where the bands get better
    margin. I bought the $100 Jonathan Coulton entire catalog package he
    offered in October (with shirts, extras, and live performance tracks not released). Think of it as a donation to the arts you enjoy going directly to
    the artists.

  • D Lowrey

    Personally…coming from a commercial broadcasting background…I love Shoutcast. Sure…it’s actual stations with their spots still in…but have found non-US streams offer so much more variety than the canned BS which is packaged for an American market.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anne.thomas1 Anne Thomas

    I use Pandora mostly, and am starting to use Spotify.. I missed most of the previous ones because I wasn’t sure what was legal and what wasn’t (and didn’t want to guess wrong)..

    I’m with you Chris

  • Technospunky

    I have two 8 tracks, some 45′s and a few big records.
    I remember thinking how lucky I was i could play that and copy to my “cassette player” LOL

  • http://twitter.com/StadiaStudio Michael Allton

    Personally, I’ve been tied to my digital music files for a long time. I used to have a large collection of CDs and have converted most to digital format. I add to that collection through iTunes. Now my collection is in the Cloud and I’m not sure how I feel about that yet.

  • http://peter.reginald.mobi Peter Reginald

    Waiting for Spotify to launch in Australia, but for now it’s Pandora or youtube.

  • http://twitter.com/autismfamily Bonnie Sayers

    I never used napster and liked cassettes and LPs better than 8 tracks.  I worked at Capitol Records in the late 80s and they had employee record sales – was good to snap up Bach Boys and Beatles albums.

  • http://www.mikebowler.net mbowlersr

    I’m liking Spotify easy to use, and offers plenty of variety. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m all for both – with 6 highly mobile folks in my family, though, we’re still loading MP3 players on a routine basis.  *grin*  I’ll use Pandora/Spotify to discover new things, then search out a low-cost per-song digital retail…

  • http://twitter.com/BethMcShane bethmcshane

    I agree about Pandora….I also like musicovery….it lets me discover new musicians that Pandora overlooks. Plus, Pandora thinks I like Elton John, no matter how many times I say I don’t…..

  • http://twitter.com/BethMcShane bethmcshane

    I agree about Pandora….I also like musicovery….it lets me discover new musicians that Pandora overlooks. Plus, Pandora thinks I like Elton John, no matter how many times I say I don’t…..

  • http://twitter.com/BethMcShane bethmcshane

    I agree about Pandora….I also like musicovery….it lets me discover new musicians that Pandora overlooks. Plus, Pandora thinks I like Elton John, no matter how many times I say I don’t…..

  • http://twitter.com/BarryWatson Barry Watson

    great ar6ticle

  • http://twitter.com/BarryWatson Barry Watson

    great ar6ticle

  • http://twitter.com/BarryWatson Barry Watson

    great ar6ticle

  • http://doubletheb.com Bill Shelton

    I totally agree with this article.  If all sides are playing by the rules, and content with the results, all is fair then.  One shift I would like to see in the future is musicians taking donations for their work instead of demanding a price.  I understand that they make their living from music, I myself was in a local band a few years back.  But I think that who makes the band popular has lost it’s course.  It seems that it’s not so much the people that make the band rise to the top, it’s other musicians and record labels bringing someone up and taking a chance.  In doing that I think a lot of the meaning behind the music is lost, and freedom of the musician is gobbled up into corporate appearance.  I believe musicians should go back to tips, drop the corporate garbage, and bring back real music to the people.  Any musician that can pull that off deserves the fame, and will reap their fortune properly.  I know this article talks about not paying for music, and I was just talking about tipping…I personally see them as different.  When I tip a server while out for dinner, I don’t think of it as paying them, it is matching how well they served my table, with what I feel it was worth.  The same applied to music.  If I were to hear a good song (in my opinion) I worth place my own value upon it and tip.  Someone else may not like the song, and leave nothing, someone may like it more and leave more.  To me, if it were being priced out, servers would be on the menu, “Clean table : $.50″, and musicians hats on the ground would say “1 song : $0.99″.  I hope that makes sense, and am welcome to hear what anyone else thinks about it.

  • http://doubletheb.com Bill Shelton

    I totally agree with this article.  If all sides are playing by the rules, and content with the results, all is fair then.  One shift I would like to see in the future is musicians taking donations for their work instead of demanding a price.  I understand that they make their living from music, I myself was in a local band a few years back.  But I think that who makes the band popular has lost it’s course.  It seems that it’s not so much the people that make the band rise to the top, it’s other musicians and record labels bringing someone up and taking a chance.  In doing that I think a lot of the meaning behind the music is lost, and freedom of the musician is gobbled up into corporate appearance.  I believe musicians should go back to tips, drop the corporate garbage, and bring back real music to the people.  Any musician that can pull that off deserves the fame, and will reap their fortune properly.  I know this article talks about not paying for music, and I was just talking about tipping…I personally see them as different.  When I tip a server while out for dinner, I don’t think of it as paying them, it is matching how well they served my table, with what I feel it was worth.  The same applied to music.  If I were to hear a good song (in my opinion) I worth place my own value upon it and tip.  Someone else may not like the song, and leave nothing, someone may like it more and leave more.  To me, if it were being priced out, servers would be on the menu, “Clean table : $.50″, and musicians hats on the ground would say “1 song : $0.99″.  I hope that makes sense, and am welcome to hear what anyone else thinks about it.

  • http://twitter.com/HasanHarnett Hasan Harnett™

    Agreed

  • http://twitter.com/HasanHarnett Hasan Harnett™

    Agreed

  • http://twitter.com/HasanHarnett Hasan Harnett™

    Agreed

  • http://www.TheBrendaDollTeam.com Lynda White

    I like Spotify. I considered attaching it to Facebook but it seems invasive for some reason.

  • http://www.TheBrendaDollTeam.com Lynda White

    I like Spotify. I considered attaching it to Facebook but it seems invasive for some reason.

  • http://www.TheBrendaDollTeam.com Lynda White

    I like Spotify. I considered attaching it to Facebook but it seems invasive for some reason.

  • Anonymous

    I’m looking for a seamless music experience. A blend of my stuff, and stuff on demand from a streaming service, radio based on what I’m listening to, etc. No service is *quite* there yet. Spotify is close, and I use it a lot, but I do have a bit of a moral dilemma about it, because they are not being entirely fair to the independent side of the music industry in terms of payments.

    Artists have been noticing their CD sales going down, and although people are listening to them on Spotify, the artists are not getting the same level of financial rewards from them. So what’s been happening is that the independent labels have been withdrawing from Spotify, meaning that their artists are not available on Spotify, making the experience even less seamless. 

    And it’s high time that the music industry worked on global licensing, so the same stuff is available everywhere!

  • Anonymous

    I’m looking for a seamless music experience. A blend of my stuff, and stuff on demand from a streaming service, radio based on what I’m listening to, etc. No service is *quite* there yet. Spotify is close, and I use it a lot, but I do have a bit of a moral dilemma about it, because they are not being entirely fair to the independent side of the music industry in terms of payments.

    Artists have been noticing their CD sales going down, and although people are listening to them on Spotify, the artists are not getting the same level of financial rewards from them. So what’s been happening is that the independent labels have been withdrawing from Spotify, meaning that their artists are not available on Spotify, making the experience even less seamless. 

    And it’s high time that the music industry worked on global licensing, so the same stuff is available everywhere!

  • Anonymous

    I’m looking for a seamless music experience. A blend of my stuff, and stuff on demand from a streaming service, radio based on what I’m listening to, etc. No service is *quite* there yet. Spotify is close, and I use it a lot, but I do have a bit of a moral dilemma about it, because they are not being entirely fair to the independent side of the music industry in terms of payments.

    Artists have been noticing their CD sales going down, and although people are listening to them on Spotify, the artists are not getting the same level of financial rewards from them. So what’s been happening is that the independent labels have been withdrawing from Spotify, meaning that their artists are not available on Spotify, making the experience even less seamless. 

    And it’s high time that the music industry worked on global licensing, so the same stuff is available everywhere!

  • Mobilizer

    Do you think that these services are here to stay? They’ve worked a long time to build subscribers. They are giving away more and more and subsidizing w/ Ad models. But the one thing these services depend upon is artists and labels participating. I can’t listen to the new Coldplay album on my Rhapsody (paid) or Spotify (free) accounts. I the Black Keys released a new album and it’s not there.  Fast Company’s article was interesting on this part–who knows where the money that is going in “goes” but artists are feeling like these services are not paying the bills. (http://www.fastcompany.com/1796382/mog-ceo-on-artist-payments-its-like-a-black-hole). Then I came across this infographic showing the revenue to artist by source (http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/how-much-do-music-artists-earn-online/). All very interesting. 

    I think the subscription model is in danger. So unfortunately, I will continue to double source so my music doesn’t go the way of pets.com after this bubble pops. 

  • Mobilizer

    Do you think that these services are here to stay? They’ve worked a long time to build subscribers. They are giving away more and more and subsidizing w/ Ad models. But the one thing these services depend upon is artists and labels participating. I can’t listen to the new Coldplay album on my Rhapsody (paid) or Spotify (free) accounts. I the Black Keys released a new album and it’s not there.  Fast Company’s article was interesting on this part–who knows where the money that is going in “goes” but artists are feeling like these services are not paying the bills. (http://www.fastcompany.com/1796382/mog-ceo-on-artist-payments-its-like-a-black-hole). Then I came across this infographic showing the revenue to artist by source (http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/how-much-do-music-artists-earn-online/). All very interesting. 

    I think the subscription model is in danger. So unfortunately, I will continue to double source so my music doesn’t go the way of pets.com after this bubble pops. 

  • Mobilizer

    Do you think that these services are here to stay? They’ve worked a long time to build subscribers. They are giving away more and more and subsidizing w/ Ad models. But the one thing these services depend upon is artists and labels participating. I can’t listen to the new Coldplay album on my Rhapsody (paid) or Spotify (free) accounts. I the Black Keys released a new album and it’s not there.  Fast Company’s article was interesting on this part–who knows where the money that is going in “goes” but artists are feeling like these services are not paying the bills. (http://www.fastcompany.com/1796382/mog-ceo-on-artist-payments-its-like-a-black-hole). Then I came across this infographic showing the revenue to artist by source (http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/how-much-do-music-artists-earn-online/). All very interesting. 

    I think the subscription model is in danger. So unfortunately, I will continue to double source so my music doesn’t go the way of pets.com after this bubble pops. 

  • http://twitter.com/TheaBredie Theodora Bredie

    Hard for musicians and artists to make money and survive. The stakes are high. Those who are very successful get enormous payments. Many others little or nothing. Is it fair? No. Did anybody say that life was going to be fair? No. I do not have ideas for how things could be improved. You?

  • http://twitter.com/TheaBredie Theodora Bredie

    Hard for musicians and artists to make money and survive. The stakes are high. Those who are very successful get enormous payments. Many others little or nothing. Is it fair? No. Did anybody say that life was going to be fair? No. I do not have ideas for how things could be improved. You?

  • http://twitter.com/TheaBredie Theodora Bredie

    Hard for musicians and artists to make money and survive. The stakes are high. Those who are very successful get enormous payments. Many others little or nothing. Is it fair? No. Did anybody say that life was going to be fair? No. I do not have ideas for how things could be improved. You?

  • abettersociety

    Does this mean I shouldn’t have to buy the White Album again?

  • abettersociety

    Does this mean I shouldn’t have to buy the White Album again?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_FMQU5RMDFFNSQRZAEC2CTVZO3Q Tim

    Spotify requires a Facebook account.  I’ll pass.

  • intrested user

    I’m young and cant really afford to buy music but i still very much enjoy listening to it. any ideas for being able to listen to music for free anywhere?

  • http://twitter.com/gaveroid Gavin Trutzenbach

    I personally just buy music. Sure, I like listening to Pandora, and Rdio, occasionally Project Playlist (I would use that more often if they just had an iPhone app), but I just like the feel of having bought a song, I have my own copy of it, I can sync it to my iPod, listen offline, I just prefer to have a copy of it.