Illegal Downloading. Free Music. File Sharing. Whatever you call it– the debate rages.

Emily White, an intern at NPR’s All Songs Considered who’s only purchased 15 albums in her life– despite the fact that she has 11,000 songs in her iTunes library, recently wrote a blog post called “I Never Owned Any Music to Begin With” where she probably speaks for many Millennials:

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize the gravity of what file-sharing means to the musicians I love. I can’t support them with concert tickets and t-shirts alone. But I honestly don’t think my peers and I will ever pay for albums. I do think we will pay for convenience.

David Lowery (of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven) responds in his “Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered“:

I’m sorry, but what is inconvenient about iTunes and, say, iTunes match (that let’s you stream all your music to all your devices) aside from having to pay? Same with Pandora premium, MOG and a host of other legitimate services. I can’t imagine any other legal music service that is gonna be simpler than these to use. Isn’t convenience already here!?

Emily’s piece offers a glimpse into the mindset of a younger music fan who is wrestling with the implications of the free-music trend. David’s response is thorough and passionate.

Should we be thankful or angry that fans are obtaining our music for free?

I put my first album out during the heyday of CD sales. I put my second album out the same year iTunes launched. I’ve put out 4 albums since, and I slowly witnessed what was, to me, a strange phenomenon: as the music improved (at least to my ears), sales declined– and not just physical sales.

Maybe I didn’t do as much to promote each subsequent release. Or maybe the buzz was diminishing. Or maybe, just maybe– I’m simply another musician who’s been affected by the free-music trend. (Or all 3!)

More people than I could’ve ever imagined 10 years ago have come up to me and said, “I love the new album”– and then went on to admit they burned it from a friend or downloaded it from some torrent site. Yes, I’m flattered. Yes, I want you to have my music. Yes, I would rather you have my music than NOT have it– even if it means you don’t pay me. But, lest I mince words– I also want you to PAY me.

And for every big-named boo-hooer (Metallica!), there are countless artists like me who are losing hundreds or thousands of dollars per release. That’s not enough to buy a tropical island, but it certainly could mean the difference between making your next record or not, supporting your next tour or not, making more T-Shirts… or not.

For a sad number of talented musicians, “or not” has become the common answer.

How do you feel about the free-music trend?

Let us know– are your fans paying for your music? If so, how do you encourage them to do so? If not, why not? How do you feel about the cultural and technological changes around the distribution and consumption of music? Feel free to comment in the section below.

Support independent artists by buying their music at shows, in stores, and on CD Baby.

[Robber image from Shutterstock.]

P.S. Here’s a couple interesting follow-ups to this discussion:

Steal This Album: What Happens If No One Pays for Music

Hey Dude from Cracker, I’m Sorry– I Stole Music Like These Damned Kids When I Was a Kid

Is Stealing Music Really the Problem?

DIY Musician