No Pirate's Life for Me: Why I decided to stop pirating music, and how it has changed the way I listen
How many songs are in your music library?
How many have you never listened to?
If your library was anything like mine, the answer to both of those questions is probably "A lot!"
My collection, which may even seem quite small by some standards, contained 12,208 songs. That wasn't even enough to fill up my 120GB Zune, but it was more than enough to never be at a loss for something to listen to. In fact, that amount of music is, at times, overwhelming.
How did I acquire all of this music? I certainly didn't spend twelve thousand dollars on 99¢ song purchases; I downloaded a great deal of it illegally through torrents or rapidshares or direct file transfers from friends, just like a great deal of other people do. Was it morally wrong of me to "steal" music? Though it's debatable, that isn't this post's topic of discussion. What I do want to talk about is how easy music is to acquire through piracy. Any time I heard a song I moderately liked or felt like listening to something in particular, I could fire up The Pirate Bay and download the entire album or even a full discography and add it to my collection. With all that free music flooding my hard drive, at times I felt I spent more time finding and downloading music than I spent listening to and enjoying it.
Like many my age, I never really had any moral qualms with music downloads. To us, it's just another way of discovering music to listen to. Is it thievery? I don't think so. There's an argument to be made that I wouldn't have bought all that music anyway, so there's not really a lost sale, but that doesn't really justify downloading vast amounts of unpurchased music. I will say that even though I was downloading more than I payed for, I was still paying quite a bit of money into my music habit in the form of CDs, vinyls, merchandise, and shows. Hell, even the RIAA admits that pirates are bigger fans than the average consumer because they spend more on music than those that don't pirate. It makes sense, really. If you're finding and consuming 10 albums a week versus just buying one for ten to fifteen bucks every couple of weeks, you're probably going to be more knowledgable and enthusiastic about your favorite artists (and you've probably got more of them). I've experienced this phenomenon myself, even. I've been to plenty of shows for groups that I wouldn't have been a fan of if I hadn't pirated their music. And usually, I'll pick up their album from the merch table if I didn't already own it along with any of the opening acts' stuff that I liked. All that being said, I didn't quit piracy out of any moral obligation I felt toward artists (though it always feels good to support them) or any fear of getting into legal trouble with the RIAA. I quit for a much more personal reason:
I felt like I had lost a connection with my music library. It had taken on a life of its own, and it was no longer "mine."
I had become a digital hoarder of music, and it was time for my self-intervention.
It feels good to get rid of things you know you don't need anymore. Clothes you haven't worn for years, stuff that's been sitting in storage, or old toys left over from childhood that have no use to you anymore. An obligation is lifted from your shoulders and you no longer have to worry about those things anymore and carry them with you. Even though they're just digital files, it felt the same way deleting my old music collection. Hours upon hours of music that I hadn't listened to, and had no real desire to listen to, was suddenly no longer taking up screen space and making the music I did want to hear more difficult to find.
After the deletion, I started with a fresh library, re-downloading digital purchases and re-ripping CDs I owned. I purchased music I enjoyed that I hadn't actually owned before, directly from the artist, if possible. I was creating what felt like a much more modest yet much more meaningful music library. Getting at least one play on each song felt like an attainable goal rather than an impossible challenge. And so I made it a point to listen to each album as I added it, forging a connection with the music that wasn't possible before with such a huge library.
My library still isn't complete, and will probably continue to grow, but now my library feels like MY library. There is still a vacuum of music that I miss, but that's slowly being replenished and replaced with music both new and old to me. I've discovered more independent artists recently than I had before, despite the fact that I always viewed piracy as a discovery tool. Streaming music legally through services like Spotify or Pandora makes discovery so easy that piracy almost seems unneccessary. I may never go back.