What makes us a pirate

And my story from a pirate to founding a digital music store

In the last 6 months, two important things have happened:

1. I am more broke than ever before in my life

2. I have purchased more music than I did in my 23 years before that

This might seem odd. After all, who pays for music these days, anyways - just the rich kids and audiophiles, right? Certainly not a broke entrepreneur. It was my belief that people who pirate and later turn to buying music do so because they are financially more well off. Because of the simple reason that many considered ‘buying’ music a luxury but not a necessity. I did too. And boy, was I wrong.

Back in college, I did what any music loving, self respecting, on-a-small-pocket-money-budget college kid would do. I grabbed a senior’s hard drive and copied his complete music collection into my machine. I was so high on the shining new music collection of 50 GBs.

Watch Out! was the monthly student magazine of our college. It was what the cool kids read. For one of the columns called Almost Famous,they interviewed one famous student of the campus. All the young kids wanted to be on that column one day - it was the peak of popularity you could attain. I remember reading one particularly well where the interviewer asked this highly popular chap: “What do you consider your most prized possession in 4 years of college?” His answer:“My 34 GBs of hard drive full of amazing English music by bands from all over”. I was so amazed and blown away. I wanted to be that guy. Imagine having 34GBs of new music to listen to and show off. I craved for his music collection and more. It didn’t matter to me that it was pirated or not, which of course it was.

The important thing to note is that this answer came from a senior student of one of the best engineering colleges in India. He was actually proud of his feat. Whether he was unaware of the implications of his actions or was just playing the fool is anybody’s guess. The magazine editors who pride themselves on their slogan We have Issuesdidn’t seem to have any issue about him pirating music. That to me is the crux of the piracy problem - ignorance.

When we were young, a lot of us were ignorant about what piracy actually means for the artists. Unfortunately, some of us are even today. A lot of us don’t know that it is illegal and harmful to the artists to do so. I met the ex-head of a major record label once who told me that his teenage kid doesn’t buy music because he thinks it is stupid. And I found this a common trend with most people I spoke to. Very few seemed to have the idea that it was hurting the artists.

Earlier I used to think it’s about the money - that as soon as I start earning, I would start paying for music. I did, by going out and paying for gigs, but not so much for digital downloads or CDs. Then, Musicfellas happened.

My first music purchase was a CD by the band Sulk Station. I emailed them requesting their CD and they were kind enough to send me one with a hand written note on the envelope. It felt good. But it wasn’t until I started working on Musicfellas that I started purchasing music. I was completely unaware of how badly it is affecting the artists.

As I got to know the artists personally and hear their stories, it made me realize how hard they work to give us the music we love. Stories of having to worry about the next month’s rent - every single month were not uncommon. I met artists who sacrificed sleep, comfort and even food to do what they loved. And it changed me.

Thus, it is my opinion that, like me, there are others out there who need to be educated. Most people are not stingy, but simply ignorant. I have a seen a lot of my friends convert into paying users on and off Musicfellas and it warms my heart. We need to tackle piracy at the root level by educating the next generation and not merely by putting bans on torrents or releasing DRM-restricted music. People will always find ways to break the rules until they know in their heart what right thing to do is.

About that 50GBs of music, I am slowly deleting more and more of it and replacing it with legally bought music - Thanks to iTunes’ entry into India.