March 12, 2013

Isn’t It About Time You Stopped Rationalizing and Paid for Your Software Already?

Perhaps word choice has added a bit of unwarranted glamour...

Perhaps word choice has added a bit of unwarranted glamour…

Over the past few weeks, I have noticed that software piracy reveals itself in new places. I had become so accustomed to Digg and Reddit threads where the young pirates and their entitlement to information of all forms announced itself loudly. Whether it’s music, movies, books, games or applications, one thing is for sure: At some point, the same people who can’t wrap their heads around TOS agreements decided that not only did they have right to ask for everything for free, but also that anyone denying them was violating their “rights.” I’m not gonna lie: I have no respect for anyone who can’t support their favorite entertainers, authors and performers. Having worked full time as a musician, deriving my only income from touring during those years, I typically want to punch the faces of all those laboring under the misconception that “touring is where you make money” in an age of rising gas prices and shrinking attendance for acts at all levels of success. Much like the useless armchair generals and Facebook politicians, content creators find some of their most eager consumers and reluctant customers in the self obsessed Otaku who seem to think the only things worth paying for are hard drives and processors. They seem completely embedded in the virtual studios, free movies and overstuffed music libraries they have devoted their (and likely a few unwitting neighbors) bandwidth to stealing. They can’t handle even a second’s delay on taking possession of these items, but they also don’t seem to think they are worth any money. These people are indignant at the very notion, reckoning that just about everyone who makes anything obviously became an evil mega corporation that only releases their media in between gluttonous money baths at the moment of creation. I’m not saying I’m one of those people who bemoans the mp3 or thinks music has to be paid for. I’m simply saying that people who don’t know about the profit and loss of creation might think a bit before positing their conjecture as law.

We all know these people. Many of us are those people. So many are willing to buy, let’s say, a Novation Launchpad; but wouldn’t consider actually paying for the software that makes it worth a damn. Frankly, I find describing the situation as boring as I find the soapbox speeches of the spoiled children of the information age. Yet, it’s this new moment of revealed piracy I am most fascinated with. I started noticing an increasing amount of help requests re: Ableton Live 8 in my Facebook feed recently. Multiple folks were complaining about an Ableton Live license that had suddenly ceased to function. Their weekends were ruined, their “big pro studio sessions” were  cancelled. There was a lot of rage in some of the posts. Too few people were actually admitting they needed help; instead opting to act like some big shot inexplicably denied access to their  favorite nightclub. Being the help-y, geeky, concerned with all these things type of guy that I am, I began to interact with these people. I asked a few questions about their troubles, checked them against my version, and couldn’t duplicate the problem to save my life. I searched the Ableton Live forums to see if maybe everyone there had had the trouble and I was lucky, or my recent OS upgrade had somehow helped me skirt the issue. Nope, there were no complaints on the official forums. I exhausted any other avenues I could think of before finally realizing the real problem. One by one, I returned to each thread and asked “so… uh… are you using a cracked version or what?” In EVERY case, the answer was yes. Up until that moment, each thread (save for one) was shelling out righteous indignation, with some going so far as to take shots at the software and the devs themselves…

Despite being completely dumb without it or some other capable software, a lot of folks reckon this is the only bit they're willing to pay for...

Despite being completely dumb without some capable software, a lot of folks reckon this is the only bit they’re willing to pay for…

I mean, what the hell is wrong with these people? They actually went to Facebook and said “YO. MY CRACKED SOFTWARE IS BROKEN. WHAT’S THE DEAL? GET IT TOGETHER ABLETON.” This has to be (apologies to any of you who read this and feel called out, but seriously, think about how dumb this is) one of the dumbest things I have seen that didn’t involve Youtube and someone hurting themselves or ranting a little racism targeted at our executive branch. I found myself thinking “are kids really this oblivious to the idea that support is for paying customers? Do they understand that cracks are hacked apps that no longer get updates, can often introduce trojans and are not simply ‘free stuff hidden on the internet for the truly clever?’ ” While I did have a few rational conversations with the younger guys issuing their complaints, there were a few that were not pleasant at all. Apparently, taking enough pride in one’s art to maintain or simply purchase their tools is on the level with being a sellout. So, to all of you who didn’t steal your guitars or whatever… welcome to the club.

Let’s think about this. I can accept, as someone who has made music for money, that I have sold out… or at least sold “it.” I can even accept that in having seen music create income for me, that I have an advantage over a newcomer to the art. For all practical purposes, with that established, I am a “sellout.” That said, I am not “rich.” In fact, if I get too introspective at night, I often think “man, I shoulda been an accountant or something.” It hasn’t exactly been the easiest path. So, I suppose if I sold out on that level, I got ripped off. However, I think the accusation was more founded in this idea that I am saying “hey. Pay that company for what you use.”

So, there it is. I am a sellout because I am in bed with the manufacturers in a fashion. Yet, with music creation being a larger market than it once was, it still is a niche market. So I didn’t exactly get in bed with WalMart or McDonalds. In fact, those of us who see the numbers can quickly put such notions to rest. All that aside, I actually think the notion of the sellout is somewhere near antiquity status. Honestly, anyone not trying to sell out should reconsider their business acumen. Who doesn’t want to get paid for what they like to do?

Which brings me to my real point here: The software in question in a shocking amount of these threads at once, Ableton Live, exists not only as a means of production, but also for performance. While there are certainly hobbyists using the package, it is rare that someone sets about making something in the program with no intent to hopefully sell the piece somehow or perform it. Whether a sellable project emerges from this process is another matter, but this is completely reliant on the artist and not the software company. They’ve done their part. In offering support and updates, they continue that part with service. Not bad for a company made up of a relatively small amount of individuals pursuing their dreams… just like anyone using their product. Within our profession, the creators of the software typically are musicians and artists just like their customers… and those who rob them. No matter how someone justifies it, they’re stealing from them, not some huge bank that brought down the economy, not some heartless mega-corporation. They’re just some people who made a product and shared it with the world.

So the real question is this: Are you a professional? Do you want your work to be worth something or worthless? Do you rely on your tools for your art? Do you want to be a professional? Would you try to get an accounting firm off the ground with a hacked copy of QuickBooks? Would you pay for an accountant using cracked software? Short of answering the questions absurdly to support a case of “I ain’t paying for software,” the answers here are fairly common sense. The question one may have, though, is “how does owning legitimate software licenses make me professional, or have anything to do with my artistry?” So I’ll take a shot at the highlights:

Disclaimer: Before we jump in here, I realize that it is going to be easy to be dismissive of a retailer saying “buy your software.” However, in our corner, we don’t see a difference in our check whether we sell 3 or 300 copies of Ableton Live or any of the software we have on the site. 

1. Professionals require their software to operate daily. They rely on it to be at the heart of their process. Licensed, legitimately owned software comes with support and guarantees, like being guaranteed to work so long as minimum requirements are met. If the devs overlooked something in the release, they will update the package and the user will be notified. New features will be implemented during the life cycle, and user feedback will be reflected in future releases. Ableton, in particular, just broke a long hiatus from major version updates solely to focus on stability in Live 8. The final version of the package works wonderfully, and informed the release of version 9.

2. Professionals don’t typically benefit from having to halt the production process and learn how to complete their process all over again. Buying a software package is essentially casting a vote to keep the company going. This helps to ensure that our software will continue to exist. Not only that, but it will grow as processors advance and new formats are introduced. It may not be a trusty Otari reel to reel, but it can do a hell of a lot more and rebuilding a studio’s workflow sure can suck.

3. Respecting the company that gives you the ability to record with a purchase can often amount to respecting the software more. It is no secret that those who own their software are often more dedicated to learning its functionality. Those who steal the package often flutter from DAW to DAW, dallying a bit with the software and dropping in whatever free plugins they also stole. The first time they run into a snag, with no investment in the software, they go try something else in their big folder of stolen crap. Why persevere when you didn’t even have the dedication to set money aside? I suppose it doesn’t matter that there’s no release at the end of this fickle rainbow, because the user obviously wasn’t invested in their own art anyway. Respecting the creation of others (the software- their art) is a part of respecting what you create with it (your art.)

4. I hate to get into something like Karma, but here we go: What success do you deserve when you stole the means of production? Let’s not romanticize the theft here. You aren’t Robin Hood. You’re a bit closer to the Sheriff of Nottingham. You took something you didn’t make, exploited an advantage from it, and now are putting it back into the world with the aim to capitalize on it. Why not just cut to the chase and go steal someone’s food for yourself? You aren’t stealing from Goldman Sachs. If you steal to make your art, when it is stolen, you deserve nothing better. Not saying that buying your software will guarantee records that sell, or even get finished; but when it comes to art of any kind, you want everything on your side you can get. At the very least, being responsible about your own creativity entitles you to the righteous indignation you’ll want to have about those flagging sales. “PEOPLE JUST DON’T GET IT, MANNNN.”

Even the Sherriff of Nottingham had moments where he wondered if that cracked copy of Ableton was the best idea...

Even the Sherriff of Nottingham had moments where he wondered if that cracked copy of Ableton was the best idea…

5. If I got robbed tomorrow and lost EVERYTHING, I would still own Ableton Live and all my other software packages. For the price of a laptop and a few hours of installing and downloading, I could be back up and running. While zero down time is an almost impossible guarantee, next to no down time is one I find a lot of comfort in.

6. Professionalism breeds more professionalism. That’s really all there is to it. Investing in your process invests you in your process. Your products will be better for the fact that your work time is time spent working, not shopping for more cracks or repairing the one you’ve been hobbling by on. These polished products are more likely to put you in touch with professionals that can market, distribute or license your music. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, encourages artists to put time in every day, to go for it. To make the act of being a professional the process and the product just a side effect. Regardless of ideas present, there should be time put into pursuit of the art each day, and the environment should facilitate these efforts. What’s a bigger part of your recording environment than your DAW? Cook in a clean kitchen. Most of all, never risk an unsupported crash eating your masterpiece.

Now, I know this will fall on deaf ears. Most people don’t want to think critically about this. I’ll go ahead and tell you, most of those people aren’t going to see a dime for their music. Maybe you (the reader thinking what an ass I am) are the one guy. The dedicated soul who steals for their art because there’s no way they can ever do it otherwise. Somehow you can get a controller, a Macbook, monitors, and a DJ rig- but the cost of a DAW and our plugins is just “unreasonable.” Well, it isn’t. We all wish thing we wanted were easier to get, but they cost money to make, and money to buy. If you’ve made it far enough along to the point that you have all but the software, you aren’t some sad case. You’re just disrespectful and rationalizing your theft. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s a crappy thing to do. You can’t say the software company will make the money back touring. You are asking the devs to work for free. While I can list more disrespectful things and worse things to do to people, I can’t say anything positive about stealing software.

That said, while all of this will be taken as a lecture by the offenders, and they won’t change; the wind isn’t blowing in their favor. This six strikes policy, targeted at repeat offenders and media thieves (a whole other matter) represents a change in tack for pursuit of illegal downloaders. Yes, 6 strikes will end and only in the event that the MPAA/RIAA/Whoever decides to sue you will you be punished in some way other than stern emails and throttled bandwidth, but this is just a stop on the way to policies further encouraging ISPs to report theft. Eventually, applications will be a part of this pursuit. Eventually, there will be a more rigorous pursuit of these offenders. I keep waiting for the day when some newcomer hits number one with a single only to get caught with cracked software and trigger some kind of landmark lawsuit. Regardless of how it all goes down, the Wild West period of the internet is steadily coming to an end. Why not be on the right side of things as the laws get more stringent? Most of all, though, why not stop being such a hypocrite? Stop rationalizing. Stop stealing the software. If you want to strike a blow for the little guy, Music Retail really isn’t the place to start. If anything, hitting the software companies is more akin to punishing them for growing large enough to get by.

Professionalism and responsibility go hand in hand. Art doesn’t change anything about that. Be a professional. Be a good person. Take care of the people who take care of you. Your DAW will do more for you than most guitars that ever get bought do for anyone. To see it as somehow worthless is absurd and, at best, a selfish convenience. I can’t convince you to step up, but I can hope you have the ethics to know better.

I am just perpetually miffed by the way people disregard the technology at the heart of the democratization of music. Frankly, the only reason there is so much music to steal these days is the incredibly inexpensive technology that has moved million dollar environments inside of boxes rarely costing more than $3000. It’s not a bad deal. I can’t help but think anyone who doesn’t see the value simply didn’t experience the previous technologies. Our connection with our software creators should be a beautiful, not adversarial relationship. I try to imagine a guitar that would improve based on my feedback (beyond simply aging from use) and it seems a thing of beauty and fantasy somewhere along the lines of having a talking pet tiger who goes everywhere with me. Our software tools are these endlessly growing relationships. The oddest thing to me is looking at people who think it isn’t worth anything and wondering how they could be so jaded and take so for granted a technology that has barely been with us 20 years. Piracy isn’t going to stop, nor do I necessarily believe it entirely useless. Yet, it seems like in our profession we should be a bit more respectful and aware of the time that goes into creating something… especially when creating a stable and fully functional DAW is clearly more demanding than cranking out that floor filler you’re so pissed no one bought.