I buy more music than Emily White, and you should too

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Photo By Erik Hess

There have been heated discussions and analysis springing up throughout all facets of the music community this week in response to NPR intern Emily White's candid but thoroughly controversial piece, 'I Never Owned Any Music To Begin With,' which was published on the All Songs Considered blog on Saturday.

In her piece, the nearly 21-year-old readily admits to being spoiled by the free music that the internet (and the music industry she works within) offers her, and confesses that even though her iTunes library has over 11,000 songs in it, she has personally purchased only 15 CDs in her lifetime.

A thoughtful, thorough response from Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker frontman David Lowery soon followed, as did absorbing posts from noted music writer/sourpuss Bob Lefsetz, Pitchfork's associate editor Laura Snapes, and Drowned In Sound founder Sean Adams, to single out just a few. All of these make for interesting, engrossing reads on the current state of the music industry, and what, if any, obligations (financial, moral, or otherwise) modern music fans truly have towards the musicians and the work that they claim to love.

David Lowery with Cracker

It's a fascinating discussion, and certainly one that a lot of my friends and peers have already weighed in on. And while an open, honest dialogue about any subject certainly can (and should) have a galvanizing effect on its participants, I can only hope that music lovers of any age who regularly neglect financially supporting the hard working bands and musicians who craft the songs that frequently soundtrack the good (and bad) moments of their lives have been snapped out of their consumer-free comfort zones by this ongoing discourse.

Now, I do understand where Emily White (and people of her generation) are coming from. They were raised in the digital age, where anything you are looking for (and plenty of things you aren't) can be found with a few keystrokes on your computer or smart phones. They have been raised in an era where music isn't something you have to actively seek out or take chances on -- it's everywhere you look, and most often it can be found for free. How do you convince music lovers that its time to pony up and pay for something that they have gotten for free all of their lives? It's a difficult challenge, and certainly one that has been plaguing the music industry for well over the past decade.

But the continued rise of the bottled water industry is proof positive that millions of people will pay billions of dollars for something that is readily available for free elsewhere. So, how do we make this shift happen within the music industry, and how are songs and albums any different from the bottled water that is sold to us on nearly every street corner? Again, it's something the record execs and labels are struggling with. But with the advent of iTunes and the proliferation of iPods, iPhones and other portable music devices, buying music takes just a few clicks and only moments to download, so convenience isn't an issue.

A big part of the issue comes down to a basic moral choice. Plenty of people who would never think of shoplifting in a store or dining and dashing in a restaurant have no problem whatsoever downloading an album illegally. Obviously, the anonymity of the internet has created an endless, bountiful cloud that allows for this theft to take place without any attention being drawn to the individual. And that cloud isn't going away anytime soon. So what, if anything, can be done?

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