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This all started with the Toxic Twins.

I’d earned $10 mowing a lawn, and got my 10-year-old body on my 10-speed bicycle to purchase Toys in the Attic by Aersomith. I’d heard a song called “Walk This Way” and Joe Perry’s bluesy guitar and Steven Tyler’s screeching voice were worth 50% of my earnings…easy. This exact process was followed to get Destroyer by Kiss, Alice Cooper’s Goes To Hell, and assorted others: Hear a great song on the radio (or later, see a video of a great song on MTV), earn some cash, buy the music.

And I plunked down loads of cash over the years. The hard-rock phase. The classic rock phase. And manalive the punk phase. The alt-college radio phase. The blues phase. The grunge phase. The alternative phase. The alt-country phase. Albums, cassettes, CD’s, Mp3’s, concert tickets, t-shirts/victory banners, DVD’s.

It borders on dangerous now.

See, this company in Cupertino, California has my credit card number on file. I click a button telling them I want to buy the Smashing Pumpkins’ newest release Oceania, it asks me if I’m sure, and after I click “buy” it goes into my music library. Once completed, it reminds me to back up my purchase. I do.

All too quickly, my $9.99 goes to somebody. I don’t know exactly who or how much, but I feel that somehow, someway, people are making the money they agreed upon in some contract somewhere. I feel pretty confident that Billy Corgan and the rest of the Pumpkins get their agreed-upon share. Kinda like when some guys in my college English class said their band was having a “release party” for their new 45rpm that had two songs on it. I paid $2, and felt pretty confident that Mr. Resistor and the Incapacitators divvied up the proceeds. I still have those songs on my iPod now.

I understand it’s proportionate. The Toxic Twins fed their drug-sex-rock n’ roll addictions. Mr. Resistor got some new cords for their amps. But the bottom line was that my money became their money because I liked their art and was willing to pony up for it. It never mattered to me if the boys in Aerosmith spent it on a Leer jet or the college band forwarded their payment to their beer tab. I just knew that if we paid, they’d get to keep doing it.

The digital age has somehow changed that.

See, Emily White, a 20-year-old intern at National Public Radio, blogged about being a girl who had only purchased 15 CD’s in her life but has over 11,000 songs on her iPod. In working with young people over two decades, I’ve found that most teens see this as normal. Just find some site and get the music for free. They do the same for movies and TV shows.

This set off an unintended hornet’s nest of discussion between artists and fans…and one of the first responses to Emily written by David Lowery. David was in “Camper van Beethoven.”

Then a response to that response by Dave Allen. Dave was in “Gang of Four.”

Allow me to give you the gist of it all: First, Emily admits that she got her music collection from promo records at her college radio DJ job and borrowing CD’s from friends and a few she downloaded. David then gets on the kids for downloading freebies and costing the artists money and blaming them from ripping off the musicians and overall loss of profits in the music industry. Dave then chides David for being in a band that never made money anyway and that it’s mostly legal services like Spotify that stream music and make money for the labels but not for the artists themselves.

I thought Dave’s guest post was the most balanced and realistic. Ultimately, he says, musicians need to adjust their business like many other businesses had to adjust to an internet world.

But I began to think about what it means for me. Like I said earlier, I’m okay with the folks in the bands getting the agreed upon share of my money. And I like having the CD and the liner notes and artwork in my hand or on the shelf or on my iPod…but I’m in my 40’s now. I guess that makes me old-school.

Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that came into my brain this morning:

Is it bad if I listen to Spotify or Pandora? Apparently, the labels make cash and it takes nearly 20,000 streams of a song for the band to make a dollar.

What about the beauty of the mix tape (or, burning a playlist on CD) for friends? This was a staple in my world and still is. In high school and college, it was normative excitement to hand somebody a belabored cassette and say, “Man, you *gotta* listen to these new bands that were on 120 Minutes last night.” You’d borrowed 15 albums from friends and timed that tape out so there was no dead time on either of the TDK’s 45 minutes per side. I still think the mix-tape/playlist is a fantastic way to get to know people.

I think we can all agree that the full-download of music you didn’t pay for is nothing more than theft.

Can I loan a CD of a great band to a friend? I mean, I’ve listened to CD’s that somebody lent me and later purchased them. Libraries still do this and nobody seems to complain.

Is it wrong to borrow a CD of a cassette or album you owned? I have songs on my iPod that I have ripped from a friend’s CD simply because it takes FOREVER to transfer a cassette to my computer. I have a program that does it, but you still have to play the cassette, edit out the flaws & gaps a cassette naturally has, and then burn it to disc and load it to your computer. Is it wrong to just save a step and borrow a friend’s CD?

My kitchen radio has a feature that allows me to “save” songs from our satellite radio subscription and make a playlist of up to 20 songs. I haven’t done it yet because I’m generally too lazy to go into the kitchen from the den and push the 3 buttons to do that, but I could. I paid for the subscription, and my guess is that somehow the artists benefit from that…but who knows?

There don’t seem to be any easy answers…well, except for just straight downloading a song. I’m also pushing back beyond what’s “legal” against what’s “ethical.” But these are the questions I’m mulling over on the back porch with my coffee today…

…and it all seems a lot more complicated than mowing lawns to get Aerosmith’s back catalog (featuring “Dream On” and “Rocks”) and being extra careful with the paper bag on the handlebars so you didn’t damage the goods before you could put the needle in the grooves and let the Toxic Twins work their magic…

…but I have to say it’s a lot better to mow the lawn with 15,000 songs in your pocket than having to go back inside and get the other cassette after you change the batteries in your Walkman.

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