Taylor Swift made huge waves in 2014 when she decided to pull all of her music off of Spotify’s streaming service. Her motive was one all musicians and even real fans of music, in general, can understand: Spotify’s pay rates are terrible. For an artist to earn even a meager living from streaming their material, that material would have to be listened to millions of times every day. Even artists seen as highly profitable (like Swift), barely earn anything from Spotify’s royalty structure.
For many, streaming services like Spotify are the new form of piracy. After all, when you can listen to something for free in perpetuity without it taking up tons of space on your hard drive or worrying about embedded malware (like you do when you pirate via torrent), why would you stick with the old (and illegal) way of getting the music you want?
Streaming and piracy are real problems for many musicians, especially those who are hoping to make a living from their art without the backing of a major label. So how do they keep their work safe? Is there such a thing as creating something that is piracy-proof?
As many musicians’ popularity grows, the risk of being hacked and having demos, and other not-for-public-consumption files, leaked grows as well. It is imperative that, as a musician, you protect your data and keep your servers safe. Solid network security from Trend Micro is the best tool to have in your arsenal against hackers getting into your stuff and releasing it without your permission.
Security isn’t just important for your own server and the devices you use to work on/upload material. It is also important for any service through which you offer your songs. Making sure that sites like BandCamp, CDBaby, etc are secure is of vital importance to the security of your work and income.
Finally, having security at shows and on tour is also important. A lot of pirated material is created by people who film events and then upload that footage to sites like YouTube. Unofficial concert videos are another source of piracy that many musicians forget about (especially since releasing your music on YouTube is a great way to grow your audience). It’s also difficult to police because automatic cloud backups allow hopeful pirates to keep their files even if a security officer makes them delete the file from the device itself.
Obviously, you can’t confiscate every ticket holder’s phone. You can, however, ask that they put their phones away and make it known that security will remove anyone who tries to film the event.
Make People Want to Buy
Perhaps the best way to secure your files, music, etc. is to make people want to buy what you’re selling. Amanda Palmer gave a fantastic Ted Talk (and wrote a fantastic book) about this exact subject and it’s worth a watch if this is something with which you’ve been struggling.
Believe it or not, there is more to making people want to buy your music than simply creating good music. To encourage people to buy instead of steal your work, you need to form a connection to your audience. Unlike major labels that encourage space between artist and fan, interacting with listeners and helping them to feel more like friends than fans will do far more to discourage pirating than most of your other efforts.
Finally, it is imperative that you not rely solely on your music sales to earn your living. If it were possible to earn a living via song and album sales alone, bands would rarely tour. Touring and putting on a great live show is one fantastic way to recoup income you might have lost to piracy.
Of course, touring is also incredibly expensive. This is why so many musicians also sell branded merchandise like shirts, buttons, stickers, bags, etc. Merchandise sales offer the largest profit margin and are the easiest to fulfill, especially if you work with third party providers like CafePress, Zazzle, RedBubble, etc.
The simple fact is that piracy is something that is going to happen. It has been a reality since fans found ways to replicate albums on their own. Nothing is completely piracy-proof. Still there are steps you can take to secure your files and to recoup the income that is lost to it. Hopefully, this article will provide you with some ideas as to how to do that.