Illegal downloads? Local bands like the promotion

Think you can identify the sources of the following statements on illegal peer-to-peer music downloading off the Web?

"I am a believer in peer-to-peer and am supportive of people hearing the band˜s music in any way, shape or form."

"I wholeheartedly support it. You can˜t get that kind of free promotion from a record company."

"It doesn˜t bother me."

Sound like a bunch of geeked-out college freshmen with access to excess bandwidth lamely attempting to justify downloading music without paying for it? Or are they perhaps the musings of a pimply faced high school student with a huge appetite for hip-hop but little appreciation for copyright law or intellectual property rights?

Actually, these statements (in order) belong to none other than Todd Park Mohr, lead singer and guitarist for Boulder-based Big Head Todd and the Monsters; Sean Kelly, founder and lead singer of The Samples, a band that got its start in Boulder in 1986; and Wendy Woo, who tended bar at the Fox Theater before she got her break as a popular singer/songwriter.

But wait, aren˜t these the very people who are supposed to fiercely oppose illegal music downloading? After all, Metallica, Madonna, Britney Spears, Eminem, Elton John and many other major artists have come out against it, saying that it cheats musicians out of income they deserve.

"For my band, it doesn˜t hurt us. Any distribution of our music is good," counters Jake Schroeder of Denver-based Opie Gone Bad. "For the most part, the popularity of the band determines how hung up they are on the file-sharing thing. Maybe that makes sense because (the bigger acts) might have more to lose."

Or at least their labels might. According to a university study published in March, the Recording Industry Association of America claims that CD shipments in the United States fell from 940 million units to 800 million units Ð a 15 percent decline Ð between 2000 and 2002. The industry blames the sales drop on illegal music downloading and has filed suit to put an end to it.

But the local artists interviewed for this story don˜t really see what the big deal is all about.

"It˜s the labels that are against it. They are losing out," Kelly says. "The bands make so little money under the current record deals."

Promotion tool
That factor is a big reason why many of Boulder˜s local musicians have either abandoned record companies altogether or only work with small independent shops, like Denver˜s BabyJane Records, which not only lets artists keep a higher percentage of gross sales, but lets them retain the publishing rights to their songs.

Woo, 33, even ventures that illegal file-swapping and CD-burning can help shed light on an artist˜s music in ways a label˜s promotional department never could.

"For me, it˜s a promotional vehicle. Even if someone buys my album and burns it five times, that˜s five people that might come to my show," says Woo, who sells the majority of her CDs right from the stage and self-finances her upcoming CDs with the proceeds from sales of the previous project.

While artists may not be thrilled that people are taking their music for free, they recognize the capability of peer-to-peer programs, like Kazaa, Morpheus and LimeWire, to introduce their music to millions of people who otherwise would never get to hear it. The hope is some of them will become true fans willing to attend live concerts and pay for recorded music.

"I don˜t care who burns our stuff, who copies our CDs, who shares our music globally on some of the huge file-sharing programs, because right now being on the road, it comes down to playing for people who can recite the lyrics and who are paying for a night˜s worth of entertainment," says
Jacob Sproul, 21, lead singer and bassist for Rose Hill Drive, a new Boulder band that is generating heavy buzz in local music circles.

The band˜s manager, Brian Schwartz, says immediate and widespread circulation of music is critical to a band˜s early success. Peer-to-peer file sharing is an undeniably powerful way to make that happen, he says.

"I˜m all for it at this stage of the game," Schwartz says. "The Internet is word-of-mouth on crack. When a band is just getting started, it˜s important that people hear it by any means possible."

Negotiating downloads
But at some point, an artist must make a living, and Schwartz is not foolish enough to think that a system that yields no financial payoff to the musician is a sustainable way to do business.

That˜s why he is helping the band nail down a record contract — one that must, ironically, have in it a "digital download" clause, whereby Rose Hill Drive can re-negotiate how it would be paid for digital downloads of its songs.

Illegal file swapping is no longer the only way to obtain music on the Internet, and licensed MP3 download stores, like Apple˜s iTunes, the reconstituted Napster, or RealNetwork.com˜s Rhapsody, have opened for business. Taking their cue from the success of their illegal cousins, the sites sell individual songs for about 99 cents apiece. Surprisingly, they˜ve done well.

And bands want in. Unfortunately, trying to sell a song through one of these services is no easy feat because the sites mostly target musicians with big recording contracts or established reputations, like The Samples and Big Head Todd.

Until the legal downloading services are more willing to distribute independent and eclectic talent, CDs still represent a solid way of packaging music. And artists are now trying to offer listeners more than the standard 14 songs wrapped in a plastic case, with enhanced CDs. Kelly listed every fan from The Samples˜ mailing list on the band˜s "Black and White" album. Woo included extra, personally designed pages in her most recent CD˜s liner notes. And Big Head Todd is in the process of releasing a DVD.

"I think that making the product have more bang is what our business should be about," writes Mohr in an e-mail sent from England, where Big Head Todd is touring.

In the end, even CDs with extra content or thicker booklets may not be enough to save the medium. Digital downloading, MP3 players and entire libraries of songs stored on a thin flash card represent a formidable challenge to the disc. In the meantime, Mohr says, the industry is in a balancing act.

"Everyone has to straddle both worlds until the physical CD is obsolete," he writes.

Think you can identify the sources of the following statements on illegal peer-to-peer music downloading off the Web?

"I am a believer in peer-to-peer and am supportive of people hearing the band˜s music in any way, shape or form."

"I wholeheartedly support it. You can˜t get that kind of free promotion from a record company."

"It doesn˜t bother me."

Sound like a bunch of geeked-out college freshmen with access to excess bandwidth lamely attempting to justify downloading music without paying for it? Or are they perhaps the musings of a pimply faced high school student with a huge appetite for hip-hop but little appreciation for copyright law or intellectual property rights?

Actually, these statements (in order) belong to none other than Todd Park Mohr, lead singer and guitarist for Boulder-based Big Head Todd and the Monsters; Sean Kelly, founder and lead singer of The Samples, a band that got its start in Boulder in 1986; and Wendy Woo, who tended bar at the Fox Theater before she got her break as a popular singer/songwriter.

But wait, aren˜t these the very people who are supposed to fiercely oppose illegal music downloading? After all, Metallica, Madonna, Britney Spears, Eminem, Elton John and many other major artists have come out against it, saying that it cheats musicians out of income they deserve.

"For my band, it doesn˜t hurt us. Any distribution of our music is good," counters Jake Schroeder of Denver-based Opie Gone Bad. "For the most part, the popularity of the band determines how hung up they are on…