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Confessions of a former music pirate

“Dude, I burned Toby’s first record.” Strange words to speak to the Vice-President of EMI CMG records, home of David Crowder Band, Switchfoot, TobyMac, Edison Glass, and others.  By traditional thinking, these words were, at worst career-killers, and at best, really really stupid.  But I had faith that Grant Hubbard, referred to by many as “The Godfather of Christian radio” would understand my motives.  After years a a rabid music pirate, I was ready to spread a different message. (By the way, the side bar bio is still broken. this is tower. I do afternoons on 89.7 Shine.FM Chicago. You can stream my show at www.shine.fm).

This change of heart had come primarily from two experiences.  The first was my college RD, Matt.  After returning from a conference where he learned that 90% of all albums made lose money, Matt threw away all of his burned CD’s and deleted all non-purchased music from his iTunes library.

This got me thinking about my own choices.  As an early adopter of Napster, I loved leaving the dial-up connected overnight (keep in mind that it was 2001 and I lived on my parents farm 15 miles from town),  and waking up to a new batch of songs.  When I got to college, I discovered the “joy” of trading music via AOL Insant Messenger’s “File Transfer” feature.  Soon, I had built an immense library in excess of 10,000 songs.  And the ripping was continual.  If a guy in the dorm went and purchased a just released album, it wasn’t unusual for 25 copies to be made by the end of the night.

But what should have been a music fan’s dream turned out to be…not that satisfying.  Listening to music digressed into just skimming tracks for 30 seconds at a time, never settling in enough to listen to a full song, let alone an album.  In high school, there had been a thrill to ripping the shrink-wrap off of a CD, popping in the disc, reading the liner notes.  But when I started pirating music en-mass, that thrill, the connection to the songs and the artist, began to fade away.  If you’ve ever seen the episode of The Simpsons episode where Bart sells his soul, and is no longer feel anything, it’s a pretty good depiction of what my listening experience had become.

These days, the feeling is back.  I can’t wait until next Tuesday, when the new Death Cab for Cutie project, Narrow Stairs, hits the shelf at my local Best Buy.  Now that I’m purchasing rather than downloading, getting new music is like dining at a fine restaurant or hanging with my best friends in downtown Chicago: half the fun is the anticipation.  I’ve read all the buzz on this album.  I’ve listened to clips, and hunted down information in the blogs to discover that the lyrical content was heavily inspired by one of my literary heroes and strongest writing influences, Jack Kerouac. 

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What I love about digging into Kerouac’s writing is that he got so much out of life by finding meaning and passion in  things and situations that others only saw as common, disposable…which was the view I took of music when during my days of rabid pirating.  Now that I choose to exchange my hard earned money for art, I have a lot less albums on my iPod. 

But listening is a much greater joy than it’s ever been, because music is special again.  

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