What Are You Paying For When You Buy Music?

I have a question. It’s one I’ve been wrestling with for a while now, and don’t have a definitive answer, as you can make arguments for both sides. It’s not the one in the title, we’ll get to that in a minute. The question is this:

If you own a vinyl or cassette version of an album from a record label, does that entitle you to the digital representation of that album, even if it was ripped from a digital source that you didn’t pay for?

The easy answer is “no”, and I would say the argument for that goes something like this (the need to make more money aside): if you only had to pay once for a recording, going from vinyl to cassette to CD would be a simple trade-in, maybe with some compensation for the media itself (which is more substantial with new media formats, but over time goes down dramatically).
The not-so-easy answer, “yes”, opens up more questions. Let’s assume that I’m honest, and all I want to do is to enjoy the music I’ve already purchased on some form of digital playback device (computer, iPod, whatever); I’m not planning on sharing it. Fair use says I can make a backup copy of the media I’ve purchased. Then the solution becomes: well, just rip the original media. Let’s say, however, that I no longer have access to the necessary equipment to do that (which is true: I no longer have a record player). Do I need to invest in obsolete equiment (sorry, DJs/audiophiles!), not to mention the pre-amp I’d need to get the signal into the computer, to get music on my computer, when I can just grab it online somewhere?

I’m not a lawyer, and I haven’t researched this question, so maybe legally it’s a cut-and-dried issue and the answer is “no”. But that then leads to the question in the title: What are you paying for when you buy music? If the answer to the first question is “yes”, then the answer to the second question is easy: the right to listen to that music in any form, anywhere. If, however, the answer to the first question is “no”, then the answer to the second question is along the lines of “the right to borrow the work to listen to it as long as you’ve got the technology to do so in the purchased form”.

Which means it’s not about the music at all, it’s about licensing the right to something. Now I’m not so naive that I think it’s not about licensing, and I’m all for artists being compensated for their work, but when I hear how dismal that compensation can be sometimes, I can’t help wonder who I’m giving money to when I buy a CD of an album I already have the vinyl or cassette of, and why I need to be doing this when the music I thought I had already purchased is a few (questionable) clicks away.

Oh, and before it’s pointed out that $0.99 per song on iTunes isn’t that much to get the digital version of a song, I will agree with you as soon as iTunes gets a comprehensive collection: for the current size of it, I still can’t find most of my older music on it (and I’m not even going to touch the DRM issue).

I could get into analog vs digital copying, and other side issues, but I’m not sure that’s relevant. I just want to know if I really need to pay to have the ability to enjoy all the music I’ve spent money on.
What do you think? Does anyone know the definitive legal answer to this? Have I missed anything obvious?

Dell Sets New Landspeed Record

With all of the negative stories about Dell tech support (plenty of which eminate from a co-worker’s general direction), I thought I’d post a tale of service that to some may seem to be nothing short of astonishing.

The other day, I noticed that my latop’s DVD combo drive was taking longer to recognize newly-inserted discs, making increasingly louder noises, and the clincher: stuttering on DVD playback. I checked the warenty after logging into Dell’s support site, and opened a ticket online (I’m told that’s the key). The ticket was opened just before 2pm, I got the automated response immediately, and the reply from the tech at 4:17pm. The reply didn’t try to take me through the usual diagnosis proceedure they usually want you to do, it simply apologized for the problem, and said they were shipping the replacement. And ship it they did: it was hand-delivered to my desk by a DHL courier the next morning, around 9:00am! Not bad at all, Dell! Hopefully that’s more the rule than the exception!

The New Addition

As I had blogged earlier, my plan of adding a new board to my rig happened literally hours before I left for the gig on Friday: I bought a CME UF7.

click for a larger image, but be warned: it’s big!

As I said, I was after a new controller that gave me a better piano feel, without going all the way to hammer-action. This 76-note, semi-weighted keyboard has a beautiful feel to it, and I’m liking the control surface (9 sliders, 8 knobs, both with buttons that change what they control) more and more. The important thing here was that I literally went from the store to packing it in a van, set it up onstage, and using it live (ok, there *was* a soundcheck)! I know, nuts, right? Well, I survived, and where I was using it for piano parts (triggering an Alesis Nanopiano), it was great (the sound being impacted by the velocity curve of the controller, in case you were wondering how a controller could change the sound of something!).Last night, I finally had the opportunity to plug it into my computer (it has USB) and trigger some softsynths. One of the cool things there was playing organs with the UF7’s sliders in “drawbar” mode: very nice.

One of the unexpected bonuses was the addition of a software editor (Windows, but it runs in Wine) for the board, which, among everything else, allows you to edit the velocity curves, something I didn’t think would be possbile.

Overall, this was a great purchase and addition to my rig, both on-stage and studio. This is going to see a lot of use.

Update Stymied By Lack of Access

Well, I really wanted to post entries last weekend, during the gig, but the place we were at had only spotty cellular signal. Oh, well. We had an amazing weekend: we were happy with the way the music went (a couple of minor glitches, but hey, that’s live music, right?), the speaker was great, a bunch of kids were really impacted by the whole weekend, the location was beautiful, and we had a blast. What more could you want?

Oh, yeah, my new keyboard worked wonderfully. More on that next.