Until recently I hadn’t even thought about downloading songs from the internet, legally or illegally, mainly because high-speed isn’t available out here in the sticks. But a couple of months ago I got an email from the musicians’ union requesting that I complete a survey. In exchange for my participation, I would be given a free download from Puretracks.com. For me, “free” is a magic word, so I happily completed the survey and went straight to Puretracks to get my free song. When I got to their website, I discovered that they are a Canadian business, which is cool, and I also discovered that they only have songs available in WMA format*. OK, no problem – all I have to do is download Windows Media Player for Mac or, even better, Flip4Mac. I download both. Now, back to Puretracks. I select my song: Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (from the album “Grace”) – if you don’t know this one, you have to check it out – it is an incredible performance. Anyway, I download Hallelujah, but then I can’t do anything with it because there is some “.exe” file that has to be run first*, and since I don’t have Windows on my Mac, I realize I’ve just wasted two hours downloading all that stuff for nothing. Damn Windows. Damn dial-up. I do come up with a solution, though – burn the WMA file to data CD, take it to the Confederation Centre Library and use their computer to burn the file to audio CD, thereby converting it to a file type that I can actually play in iTunes!

Since registering with Puretracks, I have been receiving their weekly e-newsletter, and every week they have a free download available to members. So this has become a weekly ritual – I go to the CC Library, download the free song of the week, burn it to CD (CD-RW, of course – reduce, reuse, recycle!) and take it home to experience something new (half the groups I’ve never even heard of!). This has been fun.

Since I’m on the topic of downloading, I may as well throw in my 2¢ about that issue. Puretracks is a legitimate provider of music on the web, and individual songs cost 99¢ to $1.19. Obviously, as a musician, I believe that we should all pay for songs we download – artists should be compensated for their works. I’ve heard a lot of pretty flimsy justifications for downloading illegally, most notably “I wouldn’t have bought the album anyway.” Well, music sales are down and downloading is up – explain that! – something’s not “working out in the wash”. These ones are entertaining: “They’re all rich anyway” (uh, not all of us!) or conversely, “The artists don’t see much of the money anyway – the labels take most of it.” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Of course, if a band wants to give away their music, they have every right to do so – and some of them are doing just that, for very legitimate reasons, i.e. promotion and exposure. What we as consumers have to keep in mind is whether the artists want their music distributed freely, or whether they actually would like to be paid for their work. P2P file sharing and illegal downloading is not cool – we are consuming music for which “give-away status” hasn’t necessarily been approved by the artists.

I like analogies, so here’s one about grapes: if we walk into a grocery store, put a bunch of grapes in our cart, and eat a couple while we continue shopping, that’s stealing. Sure, it’s a drop in the bucket – it’s really not going to make that much difference in the price when it’s weighed in. But what if everyone does it? The cost adds up, and it does make a difference. And if the store offers free samples of those delicious grapes for people to try out? Yes, there is a cost to the store, but we’re obviously not stealing if we eat those grapes. In this case, the store has an expectation that their offer of free grapes (promotion and exposure) will translate into higher sales of grapes. This is exactly what Puretracks is hoping to do by offering a free song every week – and you know what? It works, because I’ve actually started buying stuff from them – stuff I wouldn’t have bought anyway.

Free stuff is great, as long as it’s free with the artist’s blessing.

*Note for Mac users: Puretracks is now starting to offer MP3s, and are working toward offering a download manager that is Mac compatible. (Now, I wonder if we’ll ever get high-speed here).

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1 Response to Puretracks

  1. Antonio says:

    Hey…interesting stuff…..My first advise (not that you’re asking) is to tell you to get WILDBLUE broadband satellite service…ASAP. I suffered with dial up for years and finally have broadband. It’s not as fast as DSL, or cable, but light years ahead of dial up. They sometimes have free install deals and the basic service is $50. per month. WAY worth it.

    Yeah, that Halleluah tune by Cohen is amazing. I’ve gotta try and learn that. I’ve recently tried to get into the market with a myspace page We’ll see what becomes of that.

    Oh, and by the way, Flip4Mac is one of the most essential plug ins on my Mac. They’ve also got a great ne DVD imaging app out now Called Drive In. Check it out HERE

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