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The following is an opinion paper I wrote for Composition a month or two ago on music piracy.  Being such a controversial issue, I try to sum up my feelings on the matter.  Some people wanted to read it, here it is!  Comment as you wish, of course; there’s definitely a few directions one can go on this matter, so your opinions are received graciously.

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The Lighthouse and the Whaler, a folk rock musical trio hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, is an independent band trying to make the big time, while simultaneously attempting to make ends meet.  Relying on friends and family for travel needs, selling copies of their albums at shows (with a shoebox in which to store the cash), and packing it all in a dark blue minivan, they traverse the nation, playing shows and networking in hopes to finally get signed to a record label.  On one tour date, they come across another fellow band from Canada; as they explain to the band what they do and why they do it, the Canadian band sighs, “Oh, thank goodness we don’t operate like that!  We’re subsidized, so we don’t have to worry about financial stuff.”  The United States is indeed proud to be a nation built on a foundation of capitalism, and those who work the hardest and show initiative will in the end be rewarded.  But the fact remains that many bands are strapped for cash, making what little they can to continue their art and living.  But to undermine any success the band can possibly obtain, the factor that must be considered is music piracy– the illegal exchange of music through the internet.  And indeed, music piracy is a crime that has continued unchecked by many consumers, even by Christians, for far too long.

Hard rock/metal quintet Oh, Sleeper is a band very vocal about the broad dangers and problems with music piracy.  To illustrate their point, guitarist Shane Blay detailed out the expenses and payrolls for which the band is responsible.  Blay explains there are two main ways by which the band can earn profit: guaranties and merchandise sales.  For any given show, the band makes their money through $300 they have in each area.  To start with guaranties, which are the amounts every band in a show is promised by the venue as payment for performing, the band manager and booking agent each receive 15% and 10% respectively.  With the gas bill averaging $150 for each show as well as food costs averaging $10 for each member of the band and their merchandise manager, these are subtracted from the total.  To sum up guaranties, the band earns around $15 as the net total.  For merchandise, Oh, Sleeper sells their t-shirts for $15 per show, and it costs the band $7.50 to print each shirt.  With half profit made for each shirt, half of the average $300 in merchandise sales goes back to the t-shirt manufacturer.  Many venues, however, charge what are called “merch rates,” where around 25% of the profits of the sold merchandise are paid to the venue.  When both the guaranties and merchandise sales are added together, the band makes around $13.12 per band member, and this total does not include miscellaneous expenses such as hotels, auto repair bills, broken musical equipment and replacements, etc.  Blay concludes his article with the words, “STOP STEALING OUR CDs PLEASE [sic].”

It is a myth that all musicians today make the “big bucks.”  For a band such as Oh, Sleeper to make the amount of money they do as a signed band, it is surprising how little the band really receives for their wages.  In this age of digital music, where outlets such as iTunes and AmazonMP3 are quickly becoming the major sources of music for consumers, the sale of physical CDs is becoming more and more slim.  Digital sales are quite easy for the sellers, because they can make the money they would like very quickly, and consumers are satisfied because they receive the music they buy almost instantly.  But with this newfound convenience of MP3s, music piracy has become much more of a problem.  The infamous Napster closed down years ago because of copyright infringement issues, but this has not stopped some crafty consumers from continuing to steal music and/or give it away to friends, mostly because of the incredible ease.  One can easily burn songs to a CD and give the CD away, or even worse, sell the CD for a profit.  Some computer applications such as LimeWire or Kazaa, while legitimate and legal peer-to-peer sharing networks for non-copywritten material, have also an easy avenue to find virtually any song they would like and freely download it to their computer’s hard drive.  Some also rationalize music piracy through borrowing albums from a local library, importing the CDs’ contents to their hard drive and returning the albums.  Others claim that since nobody they know has ever been arrested for the crime, they will not be subject to indictment either.  And what is possibly one of the worst aspects about music piracy is that many people partake in the activity without much thought of the consequences, including Christians.

Christians, like everyone else, are subject to the temptations to sin every day, and music piracy is no exception.  And because it is extremely easy to pirate music, many Christians participate, despite both its illegal and sinful nature; if they purposefully look for ways to obtain illegally-exchanged music, they will indeed find them.  One contemporary rationalized his pirating methods by stating, “I’m okay with opening my mind to different types of music, but not with opening my wallet.”  But music consumers, Christians or not, cannot have it both ways.  Pirating music, any way it is performed, is a form of stealing, and with the Scriptures taking a clear statement on the topic of theft and possessions, Christians have no place in the illegal activity.  Exodus 20:15 phrases it quite clearly with its four simple words, “You shall not steal.”  Like any other sin, piracy can be tempting, but resisting the urges is important to keep one’s heart blameless and keep our habits with money honest and pure.  For some, purchasing music from a retail store may be a better option to avoid the lure of the internet’s black market.  This should not stop consumers from using their stewardship skills, however; as long as the outlets chosen are legal, one should go and find the best deal they can on music in which they are interested.  Many digital music outlets periodically offer sales and bargains of which any consumer would be wise to take notice.

Knowing the facts about the reality of music piracy and its implications, consumers would do well to avoid the activity.  Besides its illegality, it hurts the artists and other music professionals and desensitizes the human heart towards stealing.  To keep artists such as The Lighthouse And The Whaler and Oh, Sleeper in the circle, making records and playing shows for their fans, music piracy has to end.  Truly valuing the art of music has two parts: listening to and appreciating the music, as well as giving these bands their due financial support as well.  The Lord calls Christians to be different, and the sooner Christians accept this call in this area of the arts, The Lighthouse And The Whaler and Oh, Sleeper can survive and continue to bring innovative music to the table.

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An Unsavory Pastry

Have you ever taken some item into a restaurant to eat that you bought at a competitor?  This evening I did just that, unwittingly playing to two of my favorite chains: Panera Bread and Starbucks Coffee Co.  How did this happen??

As I pressed the “Order Now” button on the touch screen of the photo area at Meijer, I saw the “approximate time ready” as more or less an hour from the present.  What was I going to do to occupy myself for the next hour waiting for these photos to be developed?  It was then that I remembered my newly-acquired MyPanera Rewards card in my wallet, thinking, “Hey, I just earned a free pastry since last time!  I’ll just take my laptop over there to work a bit while I indulge in some baked deliciousness for the next hour.  No problem.”  Only problem: when I arrived at the Panera location across the street from the Meijer, I sighted, to my dismay, that the store was to close in ten minutes.

“Phooey.  NOW what am I gonna do?”  I claimed my free cinnamon roll to go (seriously, those things are pretty amazing if you’ve never had one!) then ventured back to my car.  However, I had the idea, “Well, the Starbucks down the street doesn’t close that soon… I’ll just hang there to wait.”  Soon enough, I found myself sitting in a Starbucks surreptitiously munching on my Panera product.  Sheepish, I often try to hide my dessert with my laptop case, hoping no observant barista would spot my lack of customer devotion.

I don’t feel like a horrible person for committing this act, but at the same time, how often do we think this way about our devotion to the Lord?  As Christians, we want to be completely devoted to following Christ and His example, but as fallen humans, we want to sin and rebel against Him.  It’s an either/or situation; we can’t serve both our own desires and the LORD’s calling.  It has to be one or the other.

Now, I LOVE both Starbucks and Panera, and each for different reasons.  Starbucks never fails to satisfy my craving for a hot or cold coffee beverage (soymilk frappuccinos make me quite happy), and Panera’s pastries, breakfast sandwiches, and bagels always score high marks with me.  And really, sometimes I feel devoted to one over the other.  The last time I went to Starbucks a monstrous rainstorm invaded the patio, sending the baristas outside in the weather to stack the chairs and tables to the side.  My friend and I ventured out to assist the burdened staff with their soppy task, and as one would imagine, we along with the Starbucks staff were drenched upon our arrival inside.  Not only did the baristas provide us with towels to dry ourselves off, but they also offered us a free item from the pastry/drink case for our efforts (which was more than nice of them, by the way).

With this context in mind, I feel a little attached to the coffee establishment (and that location in particular).  But at the same time, I do prefer the baked goods from Panera over Starbucks’s, plus I had the reward for a free pastry anyway.  But nevertheless, I sit in a Starbucks with a competitor’s item in my possession, feeling both like a bad customer and traitor to the crowned siren.

Is there a certain unconfessed sin that you’re trying to shove to the back of your mind?  Are you attempting to serve both this sin AND God?  Guess what: it doesn’t work.  We can live as two-faced as we want, putting on our “Christian mask” when around others but sin nonchalantly when those friends aren’t looking in our direction, but is that a rewarding or honoring way to live for Jesus?  It’s the same idea as a friend who acts sweet and kind towards one person but when away from that person they backstab and flippantly disparage them.  No one likes a turncoat, and the LORD isn’t a fan either.

Examining yourself, is there something for which to repent about that you’ve been trying to ignore?  Confess it NOW.  We cannot serve two masters; free yourself from this helplessness and get right with Him.  He’s given us everything, and He deserves nothing but our undivided commitment.

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Haha, whoops…

Turns out that prayer I posted below was NOT by Billy Graham; I found this out via Snopes (http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/prayernation.asp).

The above URL explains the whole story. Bottom line, however, is that it IS a real prayer, and it’s message is very much still applicable and true, no matter who wrote it. Sorry about that! 😛

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The following is a prayer written by Billy Graham (age 92).  His wisdom and knowledge of the world is very accurately described here; it’s frightening and convicting, but oh so true.  I have emphasized a few parts with underlining as well as formatted it into paragraphs.

‘Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance.  We know Your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that is exactly what we have done.  We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice.

We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.

We have abused power and called it politics.

We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition.

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and Set us
free. Amen!’

That’s definitely my prayer.  Is it yours?

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The following are some of my favorite pictures I took from my recent trip to NYC.  Let me know your thoughts!


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Matt Metzler researched the album Cities by Anberlin, and came out with this comprehensive, detailed project looking deeper at the record.  Here is his result posted on his blog:

A Tour Guide to Anberlin’s Cities

This was one fascinating read.  Cities is one of my favorite albums of all time, and over three years after its release, there’s still so much to discuss and talk about it.  Give Cities a listen if you already haven’t; it’s an album that forever changed my outlook on rock music and its underlying themes, and I would encourage anyone to give it a listen.

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For those who are always up for free, good-quality music (like I am) and who don’t already have this record, indie alternative band Sleeping At Last has released their third album Storyboards on NoiseTrade for today and tomorrow only:

Sleeping At Last, “Storyboards” FREE on NoiseTrade

All you have to do is put your email and postal code in, and you’re set to download it for free (you can also “tip” the artist afterwards, if you like).  I haven’t heard the entire album yet, but the first few songs sound top notch.

Have you heard it yet, and if so, what are your thoughts?

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