In my opinion, dowloaded music is now the ultimate form for advertising. Artists can now get there music to the entire record buying public on earth with minimal resources.
When Napster (RIP) was at it's height, CD sales dropped slighty (we're talking a few %) which was in line with the buying trends of the time - infact if anything the sudden availability of more music slowed the fall off in sales.
I will give you an example. About 5 years ago I wondered "I wonder what that Paul Gilbert
solo stuff sounds like?" I went to HMV, Virgin and a few of the other big stores and found maybe one CD, usually an import costing £19. ($28??). Now as far as I knew PG's solo stuff could have been mindless 8 million note persecond stuff which would not interest me in the slightest. So I went to napster, downloaded about 4 songs and realised that it was in fact, unbelievably good.
I now own every solo album he has done - all purchased on original, whether imports or not. After wearing out my first copy of Flying Dog (I can kill CD's in no time) did I go and download the album so that I had a copy? Did I make a digital copy of the first one I purchased (which I legally could do)? NO. I bought it again. Senor Gilberto could buy himself a slap up meal on what I have bought from him (unfortunately, his record exec's could eat for a week) - and all down to napster. Now I'm not saying that I would never have bought it without hearing it first - god knows i am not that strong willed in record shops; but it certainly prompted me to get hold of it.
I'm sure this story can be replicated the world over. In all things there are some who use it how it should be - you download, you listen and if you like you buy....its better than the nonsense you get on the radio anyway.
However there are people who will abuse this - I was disgusted when I was on holiday in Malta when every shop and market stall openly sell bootlegs with photocopied covers of EVERY major album you have ever seen for around £4.
The Music industry is on its knees - not because of piracy - which would have killed it a long time ago (remember "HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC" ) if it could , and not because of the downloading and file sharing which occurs. The Music industry is on its knees because all the minor labels are being swallowed up by the big boys (if there are more than three record companies in 2010 I will be shocked) and the one things the majors wont do, it is take a chance. Bands don't even get a sniff of a contract these days unless they show commercial potential. If you aren't going to make the big bucks, forget it. There is a quote i use about playing in a covers band when people tell me I should only play orignals..... "F**K artistic integrity, show me the money". I say it as a joke - believe me if i could make it playing my own stuff i would, but I want to play in a band and have fun, so I play covers , K?
Unfortunately - this is now what is happening to the whole music industry. Record execs don't want bands who write new, different or dare I say it inspiring music - they want bands who make $$$$$$$. End of story.
I was engineering a gig and got talking to an A&R guy who was there. I asked what he thought of the bands and who had a chance. Without batting an eyelid he said "The first band have a marketable image, that's all that's needed". He could have made that decision by looking at photos of them all - he agreed that the other bands had talent, could play, could write but how do you market a bunch of late 20's guys with guitars? NO, go for the wierd guys with the punky female lead singer who obviously has an affliction to wearing too many clothes.
When was the last time a boy/girl band released an original songs as their debut?? (I'll exempt the Popstars bands - they are already hyped enough, they could release silence and it would still go to number one).
All in all, you could count the number of decent bands who have been signed IN THE LAST THREE YEARS on your hands. There are plenty of bands who were signed by smaller labels and have now made it; but most of the bands are there to make money.
If a kid downloads THEIR music and still wants the buy the album fair enough. But chances are that that self same kid will instead get hold of something much more inspiring and original, and will buy off THAT artist instead - hopefully one where a nice big chunk goes to the guys or gals who WROTE the stuff.
OK, so I've gone off on one. But it's all relative. I work in the music industry (kinda) and believe me the last thing I want to do is ruin it. Downloading isn't killing the music industry; the music industry is killing the music industry.