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Musicians, Singers Struggle in the Digital Age


Spotify shows music artwork displayed on its mobile app.

Spotify shows music artwork displayed on its mobile app.

People can listen to music on many devices, including tablets and mobile phones. As music becomes digital, billions of people around the world can listen to many different kinds of songs no matter where they live -- the variety and quantity of music is greater than ever before, and available to more people.

These changes are both good news and bad news for the music industry. They help spread music around the world. But digitizing music can create problems for songwriters, musicians and singers.

Recently, the music industry observed World Intellectual Property Day. Intellectual property includes books, songs, art, business methods and other works that humans have created from their intellect.

Jimmie Moore is a singer, songwriter and poet from Houston, Texas. He calls himself “JMetro.” He says intellectual property laws protect his music.

“Because it is copyrighted, I know that you all can hear it and record it, put it on YouTube or whatever. It does not matter. Just spread it all throughout the world and I feel completely confident knowing that no one else is going to take the music that I have worked so hard to create.”

JMetro told VOA he likes the opportunities new technologies give him and other artists. But he says those technologies can also hurt artists.

“However, at the same time, I saw that under the current system artists are not being fairly compensated. So, it makes it difficult to continue to be able to fund our creativity. But, ultimately, it is great to have the exposure.”

Michelle Woods directs the copyright division of the World Intellectual Property Organization. She says international copyright law agreements have been changed to deal with the digitization of music. She says singers and musicians should be able to earn money when their digitized songs and music are played. She says artists earn less money now than when their songs were played only on radio stations.

Alexandre Lombard listens to music online. He says young people do not want to pay to listen to digitized songs.

“We have the opportunity to access almost every piece of music that ever existed. For my generation, music has always been available for free. Some way or another you could access free music on the Internet.”

Even though many songs can be downloaded without payment, the number of digitized songs that are being paid for is increasing. The music industry says sales overall grew almost 7 percent to $6.85 billion last year. About half of those sales came from digitized songs, and the other half from music sold in stores. Last year is the first time digital sales and store sales were equal.

Chris Ancliff is a top international lawyer at Warner Music Group, one of the largest record companies in the world. He says experts have often predicted the music business would soon die, but it has always survived.

“The recording music business has invested something like $20 billion in new artists over the last five years alone. So, we still think of ourselves as being a strong and healthy business. Now clearly we are not as strong and as big as perhaps we were 10 years ago. The easy availability of free illegal music on the Internet has played a very big part in that.”

Didier Awadi is a rapper from Senegal. He says African governments must create legal systems that will protect artists’ rights. He spoke to VOA through an interpreter.

“And so, what we want to do is see to it that all of our countries we can strike deals that are fair, that are equitable. We’re connected to the world. Let us make sure that the legal framework is there so that we can lead a decent life from our creations, as is the case elsewhere in the world.”

Experts believe musical creativity will increase because of the Internet, but only if the artists are paid for their work. They say people should realize that if they continue to listen to music without paying for it, it may hurt the artists they like to hear, and may someday limit the variety of music that is created. They say if musicians are not rewarded for their work, everyone will suffer.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Lisa Schlein reported this story from Geneva. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

variety – n. a number or collection of different things or people

quantity – n. an amount or number of something

intellect – n. the ability to think in a logical way

copyrighted – n. the state of being protected by the legal right to be the only one to reproduce, publish and sell a book or musical recording for a certain period of time

compensated – v. the state of receiving money or something else of value as payment for something

access – v. to be able to use, enter or get near (something)

generation – n. a group of people born and living during the same time

equitable – adj. just or fair; dealing fairly and equally with everyone

framework – n. a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something

realize – v. to understand or become aware of (something)

Do you believe artists should be protected by copyright laws? Have you downloaded music without paying for it? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the comments section.

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