If Everyone ____ Then ____

I grew up a couple blocks from a public park. Before one particular Summer began, the playground was renovated, the whole thing circled by railroad ties and filled in with gravel to cushion our falls.

Like any self-respecting boy, I filled my pockets with hundreds of new rocks. And my mom said, “If everyone took rocks home with them then there wouldn’t be any before long.”

Now, probably, my mom just didn’t want rocks to wind up in the laundry, the car, my bed… But the deeper thought has stayed with me: If everyone ______________ then _____________.

Emily White NPR Music piracy

I was just reading a confession by Emily White, a now famous college student from D.C. interning at NPR who recently admitted to owning 11,000 songs she hasn’t paid for. In effect, Emily White has stolen more than $2,000 from artists she loves.

Ouch. Love hurts.

And her words sent me back to that playground, to the simple ethics taught by a mother to a boy with pockets full of rocks: If everyone _____________ then ___________.

What Emily may not realize is that the blanks have been filled.

If everyone stops paying for music, then music will stop being made.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. The messier truer version of this new axiom reads more like this: If everyone stops paying for music, then musicians with responsibilities, bills, family (aka adult lives) will stop making music.

I know this is true because I’m going to stop making music. Not today, but very soon.

As an indie artist, last August I released what I believe is the strongest recording of my twelve-year career. Because of a successful on-line marketing campaign and a bunch of very kind endorsers who helped out with it, the album charted at #2 in my genre on iTunes and stayed in the top 50 for a few weeks. But as soon as the heat from launch stopped, so did album sales.

Phase two should have been radio and more traditional and on-line publicity, but phase one didn’t generate enough revenue to pay for phase two. So there was none.

Singing in 80-100 cities each year, writing a well-read blog, being reviewed favorably by reputable sources, fan word-of-mouth, thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers, giving away hundreds of promotional copies — none of this generates enough music sales to afford a small mortgage, adopt a child, care for four children, pay for electricity and water and insurance, date my wife… It doesn’t generate enough revenue to record the next record.

Overnight, my new CD was available on Grooveshark and other streaming services that don’t pay artists. It was immediately on illegal file sharing sites made profitable by Google ads. (Google hasn’t cut me a check for my share of the revenue my music helped generate these piracy sites yet – but my fingers are crossed.)

Two months ago I cut bulk CD prices. Last month I wrote an ebook. Last week I taught an on-line songwriting course. This week I’m working as a graphic designer.

Because I’m a responsible adult. And there are too many Emilys now to be a responsible adult who only makes music. Or even mostly makes music.

If everyone ____________ then _______________.

Then? Then we run out of rocks, Emily.


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