When it comes to the continuing debate over online music sharing, Alex Day seems like an unlikely champion for the cause.
Day, who utilized a sizable fan base on YouTube to springboard into a career as an independent musician, has certainly proven the power of the internet. His song, "Forever Yours," hit the No. 4 spot on the charts in the UK, and he's been profiled everywhere from Hypebot to Forbes. Furthermore, Alex Day has managed to accomplish all of this without being signed to a label. In an entertainment industry run by media conglomerates, every achievement he's made as an unsigned artist has been distinctly his own.
Because of this, Day has to work extra hard to get his name out to the world. Every single song sold on iTunes or elsewhere helps ensure that he can keep providing his music to the masses. So, when Alex wrote to tell me about the current battle between Google and a website that enables users to create free mp3s of YouTube videos, I was intrigued to learn that he eagerly lent his name as the one-millionth signature in support of the cause.
Ever since I last wrote about Alex, he and I have developed something of a transatlantic friendship via correspondence. Through our interaction, Alex has revealed himself to be an individual who values the uniting power of art, and it is from that perspective that I was able to understand his need to take a stand on the issue.
For a bit of background, the website in question, http://www.youtube-mp3.org, was recently threatened with legal action by Google. The web titan maintained that the site's ability to offer users mp3 conversion of videos veered dangerously into territory of copyright infringement. However, the site's owner, Philip Matesanz, hit back with lawyers of his own, citing the fact that his site doesn't violate the YouTube terms of service, because it operates outside of YouTube. Matesanz's rally against Google sparked an outcry amidst the internet community, leading to the creation of a Change.org petition, which demands Google allow conversion tools. The petition has garnered no small amount of support, receiving over a million signatures, with Alex Day being the digital autograph that pushed it over the edge.
"People make their own choices," Alex told me, "You can't make someone buy music just by taking away all the free options, no more than you can make someone buy books by shutting down libraries. The site shouldn't be punished for providing a service that plenty of people want to use with perfectly good intentions. For example, I don't keep copies of my videos on my computer, I upload straight from Final Cut to YouTube, so if I want to use an audio clip from something I've already made, I use YouTube-MP3 for that. This also works with free-to-use music, which is on the site."
With a logical defense from a user perspective, I still had to wonder: How would the ability to convert videos to music tracks impact Alex as an artist? When every song sold is crucial to his ability to continue releasing music, I wondered if he had concerns over potential loss of income due to fans that weren't willing to pay when they could get it for free. However, Alex was quick to dismiss this as an issue, providing me a detailed explanation as to why he believed it to actually be a positive tool for listeners.
The way I see it, you have three groups of people that want to get your music:
1) The people that will buy your music even though they know they can get it free, because A) they really like you/your music and want to support what you do or B) it makes them feel good to give money to musicians and be legal and above board. I call a typical girl in this group "Super Sally." YouTube-MP3 doesn't affect Sally, because she's happy to support you. Super.
2) The people who download your music for free because they don't like it enough to buy it permanently. I call a person in this group "Nervous Nancy." Nancy's not too committed to the music, she wouldn't pay for it, but she likes it enough to take it for free. Nancy will use YouTube-MP3 to download my music.
3) The people that will always download music for free because they love the convenience, they don't want pay for music, or they just can't afford it. I call her Freebie Freya. Freya will use YouTube-MP3 to download my music.
Of course, the ladies of numbers two and three (Nancy and Freya, if you're keeping track at home) are the "girls" the media conglomerates worry about. It's those people the major labels insist will bring doom and gloom to the entertainment industry and deny artists their royalties.
However, Alex was quick to point out that it isn't as nefarious as Google or the record labels would have the common man believe.
Taking YouTube-MP3 out of the equation -- Sally is going to buy my music just as she always did, so I get the same amount of money from her. Nancy didn't care enough to pay for it, so I'm getting the same amount of money from her... which is nothing. And Freya was never going pay anything anyway, she'll just listen on Spotify or download it from a torrent site -- or she'll listen on my website, where I make all my music available for unlimited free streaming. As with Nancy, I lose out on any money I would have got from her sharing the song with friends who might have paid for it.
In considering this argument, Day makes it clear that this would be a small loss, as the audience for his music would by and large remain relatively unchanged, conversion or no. It's because of these factors that artists like Alex Day are lending their support to online music availability options like YouTube-MP3. Rather than resist change, people like Alex are meeting it with open arms, hoping it will lead to new opportunities for them and their audience.
Day said in closing:
In short, the reason I support YouTube MP3 is because it's only affecting people who wouldn't be giving me money anyway. I don't think there's anyone out there who would stop paying 99 cents for a track of mine just because they realized they could get it for free some other way. Nobody needs ninety-nine cents that much. If they do, they're making the choice not to pay for music ever. At this point, everyone knows we can get stuff for free on the internet if we really want to, so everyone makes a choice. You choose iTunes or you choose YouTube-MP3. It's not like shutting it down will lower awareness of the idea of free music online.