If we expect musicians to perform for nothing, there won’t be any left

Even though it's been shown that the people who pirate the most are the people who pay the most, tickets are expensive and touring fees are a rip-off.

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The Independent Online

Who would have guessed that the people of Manchester – the city that brought us The Smiths, The Stone Roses, and New Order – are such big fans of Ed Sheeran? But if the figures are to be believed, they must be. Manchester is the piracy capital of the UK, according to a survey of the nation’s illegal downloading habits. And Sheeran’s album, +, is the most pirated album so far this year.

Since I have never knowingly listened to Ed Sheeran, as he looks too baby-faced and wholesome for my raddled tastes, I can’t tell you if the pirates are making a good choice in their law-breaking. What I can tell you is that Sheeran himself seems largely unfazed: he told Radio 1 that he has found a decent balance between people pinching his music from the Net, but then paying for his concert tickets.

This seems like a wise response: plenty of studies have shown that the people who pirate the most music or films or television are also the people who pay for the most. Pursue the pirates too vigorously, and you criminalise your fans, the ones most likely to buy concert tickets, T-shirts, posters and the rest.

But even live music doesn’t pay what it used to. Ticket prices grow more stratospheric every year, but that isn’t always trickling down to the performers. A hefty chunk is taken by the venues and ticket agencies, whose booking fees are now so big that the comedian Sarah Millican has dumped one theatre group from her next tour in protest.

And while Millican performs solo, so can at least take the majority of profits from her work, other performers struggle. The US singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer has upset musicians because she is recruiting “professional-ish” string and horn players to play her tour dates for hugs and beer. And while plenty of musicians may well be willing to work with an artist they admire for pin money, doing it for hugs is a step down. Try paying the rent with beer and hugs, and see how far that gets you (obviously, don’t try this if you have a pervy landlord).

Palmer funded her last record with $1.2m of fan donations, so her audience is big, and financially committed to her work. Couldn’t she have gone back to Kickstarter (the fundraising website) and asked them to contribute another couple of bucks each for the trumpet players?

The vast majority of musicians earn very little. As listeners, we need to decide how much we want them to be able to continue. If we don’t buy their records, we can’t really complain when the charts are filled with nothing but trustafarians wearing Jimi Hendrix T-shirts. 

Note to charities: be nice to donors.

Earlier this summer, I had a first: a completely plain letter from a charity I support – no leaflets, no disposable pens, no stickers with my address on – asking for a donation. The charity admitted that it got very negative feedback when it sent out the free crap. None of us, it seems, wants a cheap calendar.

But it also pointed out that it gets more money when it sends out freebies, so this was a test run to see if it got the same return. As blackmail goes, give us your money or we pelt  you with junk is a sound move. I sent a cheque.

This week, it sent another letter with a lowest suggested donation of double what I usually give. I had to write the amount of my usual donation in the “Other Amount” box, like a cheapskate. I know charities have to make money, especially in a recession. But this one has removed some of the joy of giving – I now feel scabby instead of generous. Isn’t it a risk that if people can’t feel good about giving, they won’t give at all?