My house got robbed over the summer and among the items taken were my laptop and iPod.
I had backed up none of my data. I would estimate I lost somewhere around 12,000 songs. It also feels safe to estimate that 95 percent of my MP3 collection was not purchased. It obviously sucked at first, losing years of acquisitions overnight and not having music always at the ready, but I made peace with it much faster than I expected. It's hard to mourn the loss of something that didn't really belong to me in the first place.
When confronting myself about my downloading habits in the past, I've mentally justified it by thinking about the sum of all my micro-contributions to small-time bands, to my local music scene. I go to a lot of shows and purchase local albums; I've had a number of touring bands crash at my house. I am among a small contingency of doofuses that purchase small-run, newly-released cassette tapes because I have a deck in my car stereo. None of these things help my case. I half-hope the members of local bands will come see my own band. The small time touring acts I help out often reciprocate by booking or housing my own band in their town, or by giving me a free record. I have downloaded numerous cassette rips, lazily thinking I wouldn't be able to find a copy anyway. Though my activity in the realm of independent music supposedly makes me an above-average contributor, I possess no karmic silver bullet that absolves me of stealing tons of music.
The most "meaningful" MP3s I lost and will never hear again: the five-song EP my unfocused, indulgent indie rock band recorded during my freshman year of college. We thought we sounded like Nirvana if they joined the Elephant 6 collective. We actually sounded like a third-rate Silversun Pickups playing half-time Built to Spill knockoffs that were four minutes too long. It was a fun time in my life. I would blow my tiny paychecks at record stores. The foremost and simplest reason I pirate most of my music now is that I don't have a lot of money, which isn't valid.
My grasp of the real economic consequences of downloading has led to very counterintuitive action. Six years ago, I read an interview with Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart where he said people who pirate music cannot call themselves fans of music. This prompted me to either purchase each subsequent Xiu Xiu release or at least refrain from downloading it. Three years ago, an acquaintance of mine from California, a solo performer, performed at a house in my neighborhood. After purchasing a cassette from him, he offered me a free copy of his most recent cassette release. I confessed to him that I downloaded a rip of that release a few days prior from a private torrent community. He told me that he was not happy with the quality of the dub on that release and asked me to email him so that she could send me a high-quality FLAC file.
New York Magazine recently published a story about Grizzly Bear, perceived to be one of the most popular working indie rock bands, not actually making that much money. The members of the band admit to some hardships, but they clearly didn't want to sound like victims; the story is light on hard numbers. No serious band is going to willingly open up its ledger and account statements to a journalist. Amateur bands have tried, and it only prompted choruses of "you're doing it wrong." There are more ways to achieve financial success in music today than in the past, but all of them are still compromising and difficult. Navigating the gritty numbers involved rarely ends up resembling a kind of nuanced Marxist disclosure. It is usually more binary and embarrassing than productive.
It is getting harder to illegally download music, but only slightly. Some Internet service providers will start sending out warnings to customers suspected of illegally downloading content. In a few instances, my home internet provider would actually temporarily cut service after I downloaded something, unless I brought my download speed down to levels way lower than capacity.
Among the items also stolen from my home during the incident were anywhere from 75 to 100 of my roommate's vinyl records. Many of them were esoteric and limited releases. All of them were quickly found at a local record store that is managed by a friend of my roommate's. This might say more about my roommate's sheer luck and having friends in high places than the security of tangible media. Sometimes staring at the rising progress bar of a newly-leaked torrent gives me the same narcotic anticipation as flipping through stacks at a record store. I'll admit it's plainly fucked.
The vitriol that surrounded Emily White's infamous NPR blog post this summer, where she admitted to rarely buying any music, was swift and merciless. She ended her piece by saying, "All I require is the ability to listen to what I want, when I want and how I want it." It's the mantra of an entitled generation, one that I belong to. I certainly wouldn't have phrased it the way she did, or even said it aloud.
The theft of my MP3 collection is a deserved comeuppance. Yet it also didn't change much. I bought some tapes for the car, some new albums. I also bought a replacement laptop a few months ago. For the first two weeks, my new MP3 collection consisted only of legitimately purchased Bandcamp downloads and promo albums I received from PR firms. But that was two months ago.