Before you started reading this post, had you ever pondered about what a hyper-object is? For those not in the know hyper-objects, a term coined by Timothy Morton, are those things that we know exist and are aware of but cannot physically grasp. An easy example is race because while we can point out examples of skin colour, you couldn’t literally hold such a concept in your hands and show it to someone. Class is something that fits this mould, of which I never had a huge understanding of when I was younger. Oh, and before you ask, no, this isn’t going to divulge into me lamenting on the many ramifications of an impoverished childhood — I’ll commodify that at a later date.
My reason for bringing this up is due to there being a taboo when it comes to music, something that will have you feeling the wrath of a million online warlocks more so than you would after admitting you’ve never listened to Fishmans and that’s confessing to the act of illegally downloading music. The custom of buying your music good and properly is one I fully endorse, something that I practice as much as I preach. It’s also one that, during my younger years, I completely ignored the vast majority of the time and even in hindsight, I have no qualms stating that I illegally downloaded a plethora of music; had I not, there’s no doubt in my mind that my love of music would have been severely stunted, a scenario I feel is maybe all too common with others who grew up without the proper channels to enjoy it in a traditional manner.
While it’s easier than ever to access music, back in the early noughts if you wanted to hear a song it was very much a case of buying the album it appeared on or tuning into the radio with the faint hope it would pop up. It wasn’t until MP3 players started rolling out that there was a change in the current; the money you spent on one album that you may or may not like could be used to buy a little USB device that could hold any song you could think of. I remember the exact day I was given my first MP3 player (my mum bought it as a gift for me not long before my cat passed away, a pre-preemptive grieving gift) and despite not knowing how the hell to use it, I was overjoyed. It wasn’t until talking to my childhood friend and neighbour that I discovered how such a thing worked. While it didn’t make a lick of sense to me at the time, her dad alleviated this confusion and acted as the store-front of sorts for all my musical desires thanks to him being the only one on the street with a computer (it would be a few years until we managed to acquire an old desktop of our own).
From that day on, I would pester him to add new songs to it much to his annoyance yet every time, I would have my MP3 player returned to me with some new tunes. Most of the time I would ask for Weird Al but it wasn’t long till Green Day, Gorillaz and more were added to the mix; while it’s my job to word things, I cannot express to you how happy I was to be able to listen to what I wanted when I wanted. CD's were more often than not £10 a pop minimum which was a luxury and risk to someone in my position especially if you were only going to buy one to listen to a single song. At the time, my hometown had a shop where you were able to rent DVDs and games which was why it’s so common of me to hark on about childhood fondness for certain titles in those mediums. It was so much more accessible and feasible for us to pay £3 to rent Crash Team Racing for the weekend than it was for my mum to drop £30–40 that she could better spend on far more important things — at the time, this type of market did not exist for music.
As I got older and started to earn some money, this childhood quirk didn’t fade away as it was a common practice for me to trawl through crude YouTube lyric videos (a method everyone is guilty of using), chucking it through an old converter and listening to it relentlessly. More often than not, I would end up buying the artist in question’s work as despite being more of a vinyl aficionado, my CD collection is pretty healthy with artists like Arcade Fire, Frank Ocean and Bloc Party having gone through this process. Throughout this music metamorphosis, I discovered a lot of music communities (predominantly on Tumblr) who engaged in this similar way; people who deeply loved music but for similar circumstances couldn’t listen to it the way they would like to, spending any spare penny they could on buying their favourite artist’s single. They’d even go as far as using their free time to bang on about their loved one’(s) music in the hopes someone in a more favourable position could financially support it.
No doubt some of you may have had the thought about streaming while reading this and it’s definitely something that I use more often not. However, despite this wonderfully useful creation I still find myself getting back into old habits; sometimes it comes down to certain music just not being available (Endless by Frank Ocean is a great example of an album that would be inaccessible for many had it not been for CD rips), other times it’s because I want/have to listen to work by an artist I would rather not financially support — even if ethical consumption under capitalism is a complete and utter farce.
I see music piracy as a worry but only to the same extent I find music streaming slightly nerve wracking — anyone with the disposable income should go about acquiring the music they love on whatever platform they prefer. However, to paint illegal listening as a cardinal sin almost seems counter productive; sometimes it’s an essential due to certain music being unattainable by legal means, other times it’s a necessity due to not being able to access it in the first place. Painting in such broad strokes will only go to remove the nuance of such a beefy topic and practice.