I just made my first legal download. I dropped 99 cents to grab The Thrills’ “One Horse Town” off of Musicmatch. I feel dirty. I feel like a sell out. I feel disappointed I didn’t thumb my nose at the recording industry giants and continue to grab tracks for free off the file sharing services that are still out there. Now I’m just another consumer who’s taken what the powers that be want me to take.

I never felt guilty about the file sharing I participated in over the years. I was depriving the major labels of money, not the artists. I own a couple hundred CDs, a couple hundred cassettes, and a few dozen albums. I’ve definitely paid my share over the years. Heck, some of the tracks I downloaded were ones I owned in a non-CD form but wanted to have digitally as well. Sure, I downloaded a ton of stuff I wouldn’t possess if I had to purchase each track. But when you take a look through the box of CDs I never, ever listen to, you can see the recording industry has profited nicely off me over the years. Even at my downloading worst, if I really, really liked an act, I would still go buy the CD. In June, I’ll march out and buy the new Wilco CD even if I can get every track for free.

In a perfect world, here’s how my system would work. First, free, disposable, single format downloads. Say you hear a song by Franz Ferdinand and you really want to hear more of their songs. I think you should be able to go out and grab as many tracks as are available, download in format X for free, and be able to listen to them only on your PC for a week. After that, poof, they go away. They would be encoded so you couldn’t share them with other users, a portable device, or burn them to CD. (It’s up to the recording industry to keep ahead of the game with new encoding formats that keep their product secure.) Say you love five tracks, but don’t want to go buy the whole CD. 99 cents seems a little high to me, so I’d set 50 cents as the Ownership Download figure. For that price, you can download an unlimited use track. You can burn it, share it, transfer it to every digital device you own. This gives the user a chance to preview the goods before they purchase, gives the industry both a marketing tool and control over their product, and a middle ground for distributing music that benefits both parties. As music moves to predominantly digital distribution, the industry makes back that 49 cents in reduced costs for packaging, artwork, shipping of product, and so on. But that makes too much sense so it will never happen across the board. Sooner or later, though, there’s going to have to be some kind of industry-wide system for previewing tracks, purchasing on-line, and giving control of the purchased product to the consumer or the music industry really will die.

In a totally unrelated note, I’ve removed the What I’m Listening To section of the blog temporarily as it’s undergoing some reworking. In its place, the contents of my beer fridge have been posted and will be posted upon each trip to the liquor store. Please join me in enjoying some of the world’s finest beers!