To gain recognition from award bodies has always meant a lot to musicians and artists. To sell a ton of records meant a strong market following. To play in sold out venues, the bigger the better, meant you were hot. Topping radio charts, regular TV guestings, commercial endorsement deals, all the works.
These days however, there is a new seal of mass approval. An unmistakable stamp of popular appeal. The new hallmark of undeniable selling power is not an industry accepted rating or any sort of certification. The new badge is hardly as glamorous or as noteworthy but just as accurate a teller of success - to be the victim of piracy.
For an artistís CDís to be copied illegally and mass-produced to be sold eventually on dusty and crowded downtown sidewalks is the clearest indication, bar none, that your material sells. Simply put, nobody pirates stuff that doesnít sell. Itís a very basic rule enforced by the strongest and one of the oldest of laws Ė that of supply and demand. If people want it, someone will sell it.
Of course, the issue isnít the act of selling. Businessmen sell for profit and thereís nothing wrong with that unless youíre a communist. The issue is the act of stealing since pirates, unlike legit businessmen, thieve the material that they reproduce and then sell cheap for huge profits. Still it can be argued that thereís nothing wrong with that unless youíre the victimized artist. And therein lies the crux of the issue Ė yes, with piracy, you now have cheaper music for the poor, scrounging masses but at the cost of poorer artists left scratching their asses. Forgive my tasteless rhyme.
A blatant oversimplification of the issue would be to say that piracy benefits the many for the inconvenience of the few. An unavoidable evil for a greater good. I say if you believe that crap, you deserve to have your hand chopped off and replaced with an iron hook. I say your myopic view on the issue is from the patch covering a gouged eye. I say your cold shoulder to the plight of cheated artists is but a parrotís perch stained with dried-out bird droppings Ė crooked and sallow.
A pirate is a pirate is a pirate.
Surprisingly, not all of my musician friends think that piracy is a bane. Youíd think that depriving bands of earnings from would-have-been royalty payments would have meant their unanimous ire. Such however is not entirely the case. Quite a few of my friends from other bands actually think piracy has done some good.
Piracy gave the masses cheap CDís. Altogether now - yahoo! But wait, thereís a catch. The whole music industry was bled to the point of near death. Sales went down in a hurry. Labels shifted gears and became more conservative. For a time, no new acts were signed at all and the ones that were were slowly let go. For a band to stay in the roster, you had to rake in the money. Real money and real fast. Otherwise, you were a liability. So many bands lost their signed status this way to become Ďindieí. Labels simply couldnít afford to be adventurous and aggressive anymore. Overnight, the bullish became bearish. And all because Quiapo had sprouted a new church of sorts.
Cheap CDís put music within reach of even those who would otherwise never consider buying recordings at all. Piracy then, some bands argue, actually expanded musicís market demographics. Probably true, but at what cost? How about a real chance of being signed up by the labels. Labels who before would have raced each other to sign any band showing the slightest potential to be the next E-heads are now as slow as LTO bureaucrats. So forget your dreams of being signed up unless you got your break in a TV star search. Altogether now Ė boohoo! Thereís your catch.
I can think of three fronts were piracy can be fought.
One is the legal front, the most obvious. Root out the pirates and jail them. Jail them all. Problem is you really canít trust the police for anything except to issue you a ticket at the worst time. Of course it doesnít help that some of them are in cahoots with the pirates themselves. So forget it. Same goes with government officials. You can only count on them to steal, and maybe make the occasional press announcement on social issues to earn pogi point all in between out-of-country junkets. So forget it. And even if the communists win, the ensuing cultural revolution would mean the end of all forms of bourgeois music unless the lyrics talk about how cool it is to work in a factory that was won from heartless capitalists. So forget it too.
We can fight piracy in the economic front. Iíve always thought before that CDís were priced much higher than they ought to be. I mean how expensive can a thin disc of molded and stamped plastic be. Pirates sell their CDís dirt-cheap. They can afford to since they donít pay for royalties or promotions plus they use cheaper materials. Original CDís on the other hand are priced typically 500% to 800% more. No contest there. So what can the legit players do? For starters, CDís of local artists are now being priced much lower than before. P250/copy is the new average. Well and good. Not a bad price for the genuine thing. I imagine thatís a good start. People will tend to go for quality priced within reason. Which is probably why slowly, original CDís are regaining lost ground.
Another is the psychological front. For a long time, Filipinos celebrated piracy without guilt. In fact, hunting for rare finds in downtown alleys became a national sport well before the badminton craze. A good anti-piracy campaign is the one on MTV where buying pirated CDís is associated with stealing a car or a cell phone. Slick yet accurate. At least MTV has paid society some good for its crime of unleashing Britney.
Only time will tell the outcome of the fight against piracy, although it looks like the labels are slowly making a winning comeback. After all this is through though, remember the facts so you can narrate to your childrenís children your experiences during this nasty conflict that arose after the dirty cola wars, the beer wars, and the Smart versus Globe epic battles. I can already see myself decades from now, grandchildren on my lap, telling stories of how I survived The Piracy Revolution.